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Thesis submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Gareth Lloyd March 2008
This thesis seeks to trace domination theory back to the influential work done by Marx on commodity fetishism. Marx's work proves to be an original account of domination that explains how the dominated many accept the rule of the privileged few. The theory of commodity fetishism develops the idea that individuals come to adopt beliefs that bolster and reproduce the status quo of capitalism. For Marx, the way that individuals experience capitalism is different from the way that it actually works because, in fact, lived experience is actually false. Oppression, inequality and exploitation are thus hidden and the main source of conflict between the oppressed many and the privileged few is obscured. I seek to develop this insight of Marx's into a more comprehensive account of how dominating capitalism self maintains. Lukács' theory of reification explains how capitalism has become all-embracing because capitalism has developed its own type of rationality. This specific rationality shapes thought, which in turn, generates false beliefs that favour the continuation of the status quo. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that capitalism extends its influence by means of its deep involvement in modern culture. Today, culture has become an massive industry which inculcates the logic and principles of capitalism into individuals. For these theorists, capitalism has penetrated all areas of life; experience, knowledge and thought have become extensions of capitalism itself. Marx, Lukács, Horkheimer and Adorno give accounts of how false beliefs are put into practice. Hence the importance of the work of Bourdieu. Bourdieu's theory of distinction describes how the status quo in capitalism is maintained by the behaviour of individuals through their daily acts of consumption. I argue that the consumption of commodities reproduces the status quo in two ways: firstly, establishing an upper-class which takes the lead in patterns of consumption, and, secondly, by creating a middle class that follows its example. Finally, I relate Bourdieu's insights to the theories of Marx, Lukács, Horkheimer and Adorno and Bourdieu in order to arrive at a more inclusive account of how (and why) domination persists.
Abstract Acknowledgments Introduction Chapter 1 1. Introduction to Marx and Commodity Fetishism 2. Classical Economics and the Appearance Forms of Capitalism 3. The Concept of Fetishism: Religious Fetishism 4. Commodity Fetishism and Alienation 5. An Analysis of the Commodity 6. Use-Value 7. Exchange-Value and the Labour Theory of Value 8. The Theory of Surplus Value 9. Money and Fetishism 10. Commodity Fetishism and the Distortion of the Social 11. Objections to the Theory of Commodity Fetishism Chapter 2 1. Introduction: The Contribution of Lukács 2. Reification and the Commodity 3. Formal Rationality 4. Reification, Law and Bureaucracy 5. Reification and Society 6. The Subject-Object Relationship 7. Reification and Philosophy 8. The Principle of Practice 9. The Object as Worker and the Worker as Object 10. Dialectics and the Theory of History 11. Lukács' Theory of History 12. On Dialectical Method p.i p.iv p.1 p.4 p.4 p.4 p.6 p.8 p.10 p.11 p.12 p.15 p.17 p.20 p.23 p.28 p.28 p.30 p.32 p.39 p.41 p.42 p.44 p.49 p.51 p.55 p.56 p.60
Distinction as a Zero Sum Game 9. Conclusion References iii .93 p.106 p. The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception 1. The Dialectic of Enlightenment 6. Some Critiques of Dialectic of Enlightenment Chapter 4 1. Commmodity Fetishism. Reificaton and Instrumental Rationality 3.141 p.96 p. Commodities and Symbolic Power 5. The Repression of Dissidence and Rebellion 4. Commodity Fetishism and Cultural Capital 6. The Shift from Ideological Critique to the Meta-Critique of Instrumental Rationality 3. The Social Role of Commodities Today: Symbolic Power and Domination 7. The Debasement of Art by Entertainment p. Mass Production and the Loss of True Individuality and Freedom 2. Horkheimer and Adorno on Culture: The Contribution of Bourdieu 4.127 p.118 p. Reason and Instrumental Rationality 4.104 p. Commodity Fetishism and Domination 11.78 p.137 p.82 p.72 p.113 p.72 p.85 p.90 p.13.62 p.133 p. The Prescription of Normative Frameworks 3. Mass Society 8. Negative Dialectics 5.149 7. Critique of Lukács Chapter 3 1. Critical Theory: The Contribution of Horkheimer and Adorno 2.145 p. An Introduction to Bourdieu 2.131 p.124 p. The Vanguard and the Consumption of High-Culture 10.73 p.103 p.113 p.121 p.116 p.
To my father. A special thanks must be given to my family who have all contributed extensively to my livelihood whilst I have been a student. This thesis could not have been completed without the help. thank you for your continued support and generosity. I am immensely indebted to you for all you have done. His knowledge and patience are greatly appreciated. iv . Final thanks are given to the unnamed external examiners of this thesis who are prepared to dedicate their time and effort to reading.Acknowledgments First. Thank you. To my mother and sister. you have given me the privilege of pursuing my interest at University for as long as I required. and contributing to. social theory. and foremostly. I am indebted to my supervisor Tony Fluxman for all the time and work that he dedicated to reading and critiquing draft chapters of this thesis. support and generosity of Claire Martens. Your kindness has kept me afloat for many years.
A return to the core concept of the commodity fetish will allow us to see the way in which Marx's original insight was developed into the social theories of Lukács. It is of particular interest to determine the way in which the commodity contributes to the reproduction of the status quo. and reproduce. which has since expanded into the field of domination theory. Adorno and Bourdieu. By identifying the exploitation inherent in the capitalist system of production however. and that her social position is unquestionable. what makes it so important and what maintains its prevalence in capitalist society. in particular to his theory of commodity fetishism. The work of Lukács. how it is maintained. Marx called his original account a theory of “false consciousness”. in its developed form. 1 . In the 20th century many thinkers developed Marx's work into an account of how the dominated come to develop beliefs that promote the interests of the status quo. Horkheimer. can be used as a critical tool that is capable of rendering new insights into the question facing domination theory (chapter 4). Her experience of reality instead suggests that she is not exploited. In attempting to give a reason for this. the Frankfurt school. the concept. The implication of this argument is that the dominated come to behave in such a way that they actively embrace.Introduction In the 19th century. The concept of commodity fetishism is therefore a traceable strand of thought that has been developed historically. he set out to explain in great detail how capitalism works. and how individuals are exploited within it. Exploitation is thus kept hidden from the dominated individual. A focus upon the commodity will also reveal how the commodity itself is instrumental to the entire system of capitalism. In fact. Domination theory itself owes a huge debt to the work of Marx. Marx developed a theory of ideology which can be extended to an explanation of why the underprivileged many accept the rule of the privileged few. and still enjoys validity in modern social theory. this is one of the more compelling explanations of why domination has persisted throughout history to this day. More specifically. For many theorists. and Bourdieu all use the core concept of commodity fetishism to substantiate their social theories. Marx developed a a body of work that dealt with the political economy of capitalism. he also created the need for an explanation of why the exploited accept social conditions that are against their best interests. conditions of their own domination. Marx's theory of commodity fetishism is invaluable in its contribution to the theory of ideology because it provides the original insight into how capitalist reality can present itself to the dominated observer in such a way that it hides real conditions of exploitation and inequality.
Reification provides us with a compelling explanation of what makes individuals accept conditions of domination. Central to Bourdieu's theory is the idea of the commodity fetish. Instead. the economic critique of commodity fetishism is developed into a broader social critique of reification by focusing upon the work of George Lukács. becomes an instrument of capitalist ideology and the ideology of domination. based on Marx. remained passive. Reification has since become a widely used term. The role and importance of commodities in maintaining conditions of domination however must first be traced back to Marx. which is the intended focus of chapter 1. 4). What culture effectively does is entrench the fact that capitalism is a natural human condition and that issues of social transformation are otiose. faced with conditions of exploitation and servitude. sold and consumed as a commodity. In fact. however. they stick to a functional account of culture that does not properly explain the mechanisms that maintain the culture industry itself. is Bourdieu's theory of distinction which identifies 2 . Of importance to domination theory is how culture. but it does not explain in any detail the social and cultural forces at work that shape the ideology of domination. and focuses upon Horkheimer and Adorno's work on the culture industry. and how commodities have come to be associated with culture itself (chapter 3. and greatly influenced the direction of the theory of ideology and false consciousness. The work of George Lukács (chapter 2) was seminal in developing domination theory.This will require an understanding of the cultural importance of commodities in modern society. Chapter 3 deals with this in detail. Horkheimer and Adorno however fail to identify how the culture industry works at the level of the individual. After replying to some objections to the theory of commodity fetishism. Lukács' theory of reification dealt directly with why the proletariat. which is used to explain how commodities have become objectified forms of cultural capital that possess symbolic power. Lukács' biggest contribution was his identification of what creates the appearance forms that constitute social reality. Culture is a powerful force that has the potential to influence human behaviour on a massive scale. which Lukács originally used to describe how the economic and social systems of capitalism present themselves to individuals in a manner that obscures their inner workings. This is where the work of Bourdieu can be used to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the way in which individuals embrace the conditions of their own domination. The most significant contribution to domination theory. Lukács gave a more comprehensive account of how capitalism doesn't only obscure its inner workings but presents itself in such a way that the appearance of things actively conceals an underlying reality.
The modern competitive consumption of commodities directly contributes to the continuation of conditions of capitalism in two ways. The divisions in society at the level of production are replaced by the apparent differences in the amount of accumulated goods. and embrace. competitive consumption entrenches the social hierarchy of the class system through the consumption of “high-end” cultural commodities.the mechanism that drives the consumption of commodities. At the core of all this is Marx's concept of commodity fetishism. which all of the above theories of domination are indebted to. Secondly. and is a powerful explanation of the way in which humans contribute to. Firstly. Consumption functions to maintain and reproduce conditions of domination. the ideology of domination. This obscures the real source of contention in capitalism and perpetuates domination by hiding the real source of conflict in capitalist society. and keeps the growing middle class in a cycle of catch-up consumption. it causes individuals to consume commodities relentlessly in order to obtain social distinction. 3 . This drives competitive consumption itself. What results from this is the growth of a seemingly large middle class who own similar commodities. that are similar in quality.
for example. like all other individuals in capitalist society. J (1966) “Commodity Fetishism and the Value Concept: Some Contrasting Points of View” Science and Society. Related to this was the superficial understanding of these empirical phenomena themselves. Marx thought that knowledge of political economy would inevitably mature as it moved from an examination of the outward appearances of 1 Morris. Marx objected to the tendency of bourgeois economists to think of the social properties (value) of material things as if they were intrinsic natural properties. these economists. I will focus my explanation of domination upon. This misunderstanding is based upon the way that individuals experience reality in a false way. Marx asserts that social reality under capitalism presents itself in a way that mystifies those who live in it. however. or gold as money because of its natural qualities1.98 4 . what I believe to be. Firstly. and instead de-historicized these relations and addressed them as “ultimate reality”. money as earning interest by some inherent power of selfexpansion. In other words. Classical Economics and the Appearance Forms of Capitalism Marx argued that classical and neo-classical economists failed to look behind the direct relations exhibited in empirical phenomena. This insight into the theoretical insufficiency of other economists prompted Marx to demonstrate. My intention in this chapter is to define the ways in which this mystification is reproduced by the actions of individuals in capitalist society. what he thought to be. This chapter will reveal how and why this occurs. Marx’s intention was to produce a scientific study of political economy. For Marx. I want to identify what contributes to false consciousness and the reproduction of conditions of domination. In approaching the problem of domination theory. the inner workings of capitalism.Chapter 1 Introduction to Marx and Commodity Fetishism In this chapter. Marx first sets out to discover how capitalism and its processes have been misunderstood. exploitation and domination. and why such circumstances are reproduced by the very individuals who are the subjects of domination. This mystification is political because it conditions human beings to accept circumstances of inequality. were unable to understand the inner workings of capitalism because they were confined to an experience of “the appearance forms” of political economy which led them to deficient theoretical accounts. one of the most important conceptual pillars of domination theory: commodity fetishism. and why they are hidden from individuals in capitalist society. 30 at p. we must consider Marx's criticisms of fellow economists who have accumulated a false knowledge of the capitalist economy.
M (1996) On Voluntary Servitude: False Consciousness and the Theory of Ideology at p. Marx argued that his approach to the study of political economy was scientific because the surface of social reality is not a simple one. This is by no means an illusion. It is Marx's project to understand the reality that lies beneath the determinations of this false consciousness. will act as a common thread throughout this chapter. Geras. and capitalist society. (1990) (eds) Karl Marx's Social and Political Thought Vol IV Geras. Marx believes that there exists a network of human relations that are characterized by exploitation and domination. and in doing so reveal the domination that is pervasive in developed industrial states. Marx in this sense gave his own account of scientific procedure. Marx is referring to the appearance forms of the economy that are manifested as fetishized value relations between people and the products of their labour. Marx believed that objects have properties which are not immediately apparent. “whilst real in both physical and social senses. Whether the analogy between Marxist theory and the natural sciences is a tenable one however. There are two levels of reality that Marx is referring to here. N (1971) “Essence and Appearance: Aspects of Fetishism in Marx’s Capital” at p.190 Rosen. or the apparent. in reality. The falsely conscientized individual is however is unable to see these relations. N (1971) Supra at p. Marx alludes to a reality that lies beneath the phenomenological.phenomena to an explanation of them. produce these appearance forms. and determination by. classical and neoclassical economic analyses made capitalist social relations appear as products of nature. and thesis. Firstly.205.215-6 Marx writes that: 5 . Beneath the fetishized interplay between commodities and capital. must not be regarded as a journey from illusion to reality. C. This process however. Marx argued that this contrast between appearance and essence is what characterizes all forms of scientific inquiry3. The particular scientific quest in political economy was thus for a deeper understanding of the real processes and relations that constitute capitalism. This aim of debunking the essence behind the appearances of capitalism. Marx thus endeavored to foster a more concrete understanding of the nature and essence of capitalism's inner workings – he did this by taking the initial step of construing the relations and conditions under capitalism as historically specific constructions6. Marx planned to address these insufficiencies in 2 3 4 5 6 Wayne. These properties can be broken down into a series of “internal relationships” which. allowed them to be regarded as impersonal objective formations of a natural state of affairs5. For Marx. another4. At this point it is important to point out that. C & MaclomBrown. or the substance behind the form. and in a parallel fashion. It is rather a process of elucidating one reality by disclosing its foundation in. falls outside of the scope of this discussion. it is reality in so far as it is a necessary and objectively apparent product of the capitalist productive process. Secondly.215 in Jessop. the term appearance refers to the qualities and characteristics of these forms that in various ways repress the real relations on which they are founded2”. M (2003) Marxism and Media Studies: Key Concepts and Contemporary Trends at p. on which items present themselves as they really are.
I will provide a description of “fetishism” before describing the economic conditions that lead to its manifestation.125 The implication is that a society is capitalist if and only if its wealth predominantly takes the form of commodities. and inquired under what circumstances all.. but rather the fact that being a commodity is the dominant and determining characteristic of its products. at the interior of capitalist society... Marx's intention was thus to show that there exists. The second distinctive feature of the capitalist mode of production is the production of surplus-value as the direct aim and determining motive of production. 1 at p. N (1971) at p.209 7 6 . whereas the religious fetish lacks that power altogether. K (1981) Capital Volume III at p. The other important difference between the two forms of fetishism arises from the fact that Had we gone further. The difference between commodity fetishism and religious fetishism however. III Chapter 51. K (1992) Karl Marx Our Contemporary: Social Theory for a Post-Leninist World at p. Other pre-capitalist societies are not incapable of producing commodities: Capitalist production is distinguished from the outset by two characteristic features: First. Vol. It is thus pertinent to deal conceptually with the nature and role of the commodity under the historically specific conditions of capitalism.1019 It is precisely this historical specificity that divided Marxian thought from other contemporary forms of economic thought at the time. Capital produces essentially capital. and does so only to the extent that it produces surplus-value. At this point we must understand the most important and fundamental phenomenon that distorts reality and results in the many appearances of capitalism – what Marx calls “commodity fetishism”. The Concept of Fetishism: Religious Fetishism Marx identified several fetishes that occur in the economic process. In order to understand the former fetish properly we can introduce the notion of religious fetishism which is partly analogous to commodity fetishism. but will also make a point of describing another important fetish in the form of capital fetishism. we should have found that this only happens on the basis of one particular mode of production. Commodity fetishism is similar to religious fetishism because it involves the imputation of powers to idols or concepts.82) Geras. The fact that it produces commodities does not differentiate it from other modes of production. the capitalist one. see Marx.classical and neoclassical economic thought. the nature of “fetishism” must be defined. Or even the majority of products take the form of commodities. I will discuss at length the most famous form of fetishism which is commodity fetishism. Marx Capital Vol. a kind of internal rupture between social relations and the manner in which they are experienced7. The definition of fetishism and its basis in the alienated productive process provide the basis from which we can begin to understand how and why commodities have become fetishized. Before this is done however. K (1976) Capital. is that commodity fetishism is the process of endowing an object with a power which in a sense it lacks. It is Marx’s strenuous analysis of the commodity that separates him from the Classical and Neo-classical economists of his time. It produces its products as commodities. Marx. (see Graham.
conscious labour of the individual to her essence as a human. the commodity fetish arises from the way in which production is organized in commodity society. the individual creates the fetish8. is not the same type of automatic procurement that is found in the animal kingdom. primitive forms of religion were marked by the fetishistic worship of material objects that were accorded magic powers of their own9. Marx similarly describes capitalism as worship of money and material objects which take the form of commodities. Labour is humankind's most important activity (life activity) through which humankind create their world. L (1996) “The carapace that failed: Ousmade Sembene's “Xala” in Fetishism and Curiosity. ed. Marx uses this definition of religious fetishism in his analysis of the mystifying world of commodities. what function does fetishism serve. cognitive aspect to the way in which we procure our subsistence. With regards to religious fetishism. G. It is this activity that binds the natural. This however. and as a result. But we must stop and ask at this point why fetishism.religious fetishism arises from a thought process. whereas the commodity fetish arises from the objectively real forces of production. For Marx. The observing individual registers the economic fetish.189 7 . The most important effect of this is that humans can no longer fulfill their life activity. Mulvey. Marx argues that it is our basic function as humans to procure our means of subsistence. A mirage is thus not an optical illusion. whereas in the religious case. BFI. the way in which bees produce honey. for example. instrumental. M Supra at p. Human beings assert themselves and are identified through their labour. and why does it come about? Marx answers this with his famous argument of alienation. I will explain later the process of alienation and its social repercussions. In other words. the mind thus perceives and registers the fetish which is like a mirage: it is located in the external world.115-116 Mulvey. The mind registers a mirage in a similar way to the way in which it perceives the fetishized commodity. or their “species being”. the capitalist system of production alienates the products of human labour from the individuals who produce them. is an objective phenomenon. We now know that a mirage is a naturally occurring optical phenomenon which entails the bending of light rays (refraction) which produce a displaced image of either distant objects or the sky. In other words. create themselves as individuals. Humans are capable of controlling their means of subsistence. it is the fulfillment of her species being.A. and mirage. The most important distinction here is that in economic fetishism the fetish. both religious and economic. but for the sake of the definition of commodity fetishism it is sufficient to identify the 8 9 Cohen. (1978) Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence at p. L. London quoted in Wayne. occurs in the first place. human beings have become alienated from their essence. which acts as the basic driving force behind human behaviour. In other words. it is a real phenomenon that one can take photographs of (the productive process is equally as real). there exists a conscious. For Marx. There is thus a difference between the reality of this phenomenon and its appearance.
as well as particular forms of consciousness implicit in those practices. and do not recognize this essence in others who too are alienated. Marx maintains that the religious domain is the mere product of the alienated human mind. fetishism refers to the human ability to project value onto a material object. the less he retains in himself 10”. in search of these alienated characteristics. D (1980) The Thought of Karl Marx (2nd ed) at p.detachment of human beings from their produced goods. which is in effect a detachment from their lifeactivity. These circumstances make it impossible for humankind to fulfill their life-activity. They are effectively disassociated from their essence as human beings. commodity fetishism refers to the practical activities that take place under market capitalism. project what is lost to the human race onto a symbolic. Commodity Fetishism and Alienation On a formal level. It does not wield that remarkable power (as earlier economists had believed) by an eternal law of nature. mythical figure: God. or “species being”.) who enter into relations both with each other and the human race. God. For Marx. This lack of fulfillment leads impoverished man to project his lost. free and fulfilled human form of existence. Humans fail to see that the need for divine recognition and religious identity is. objectified. It is the purpose of this chapter to understand both components at work and how they act together to construct the appearance form of commodities. Marx's concept of alienation is an attempt to explain the devastating effect of capitalist production on human beings. K (1938) Karl Marx at p. Alienation occurs in five areas: alienation from the individual's “life activity”. repress the fact that the projection has taken place and then to interpret the object as the autonomous source of that value. consists in the fact that mans handiwork assumes a peculiar quality which influences in a fundamental way the actual behaviour of the persons concerned. yet it is endowed with such power under the particular social conditions prevailing in the present epoch of society11. social relations and naturalism (ahistoricism).123 Korsch. on their physical and mental states and on the social processes of which they are part 12. Marx maintains that this amounts to fetishism because the characters that inhabit this spiritual domain appear as independent beings (e.130 Ollman. or life confirming work. in fact. the appeal to God is thus an appeal to a unified. Individuals thus lose their association with their species being. B (1971) Alienation: Marx's Concept of Man in Capitalist Society at p. The fetish character of the commodity reduced to its simplest form.g:. the separation of the 10 11 12 McLellan. Human beings. As a category of investigation. objectified essence onto God. Angels etc. “The more man puts into God. a product of their alienated material circumstances.131 8 .
The fetishized forms of commodities are therefore visible. the realm of the divine is not objectively “real”. their foundation in labouring activity is not: “The social forms conceal the material content15”. With regard to alienation in the productive process. and how this value is mistakenly attributed to the essence of the commodity itself. There is no appearance form that masks an underlying reality in the mythical world of religion. This is the difference between religious fetishism and economic fetishism: although both are the result of misrecognitions.A. the economic form of alienation (the separation of the individual from the products of her labour). it is the product of a mental projection that is made in response to a misrecognized need. S (1993) Perkins.individual from her own products.See Kolakowski. This led Marx to the formulation of commodity fetishism as an instantiation. L (1978) Main Currents of Marxism. and from fellow humans 13. because people believe that they have power. from nature. construct a world in which humans have no control. and expansion of. In other words. The material forces of production . (1978) Supra at p. the individual comes into contact with commodities and experiences them in a specific way. also Perkins. For Marx. G. “The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844) at p. This belief can be reduced to the way in which individuals experience things. In capitalist society however. commodity fetishism is an extension or continuation of the theory of alienation and must been seen as the culmination of Marx's earlier notions of dehumanization . religious fetishism is a world of complete illusion.).and the relations they engender. S (1993) Marxism and the Proletariat: a Lukácsian Perspective at p. which is false. phenomenological existence. his theory of alienation which was the focus of his earlier work: The Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts. Fetishism is a term that describes why commodities appear to have this 13 14 15 Marx. Neither does it imply that Marx's work in Capital is an attempt to overcome the supposed idealism of his early work. the alienated qualities and products that used to belong to humans develop a life of their own. She experiences commodities as autonomous objects (because of alienation) that have value inherently.116 9 . Vol. The concept of commodity fetishism is a concept that was meant to identify. This experience constitutes the individual's knowledge and understanding of social reality. interact on the market etc. Marx's work in Capital was thus an attempt at an analysis of political economy that was less abstract than his youthful writings.127-8 Cohen. and not the the labour required for its production14.326-332 Writers such as Kolakowski have argued that Marx's concretization of human alienation in terms of commodity fetishism does not imply the negation of his earlier work. 1: The Founders (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Fetishism has its origin in the peculiar social character of the labour that produces commodities. It is thus a necessary outcome of a particular mode of production (capitalist). fetishiszed commodities are objectively real: they have a discernible. In capitalist society. In capitalist society commodities do have power (the ability to determine their own value. Commodity fetishism is thus a strictly economic critique that explains the way in which commodities come to possess value. Instead. in a concrete sense. from the work process itself. Most importantly however. K (1992) Early Writings.
In order to show how and why the products of labour become impoverished we must engage in an analytical process which begins with an exposition of the commodity and its different types of value. In reality however. an essential difference between the two – namely that the commodity is fully visible. economic character impressed on things in the process of social production into a natural character stemming from the material nature of those things18. There is however. other features of the commodity become apparent. a very trivial thing. The process and necessary criteria for fetishization will be dealt with later in the chapter. N (1971) Supra at p. K (1976) Supra at p. C. it becomes evident that the commodity itself is not a purely self-evident physical entity21: “A commodity appears.225 quoted in Geras.power inherently. K Capital II at p. Marx makes this point when alluding to: . a phenomenon comprised of many layers of appearances hiding a deeper reality beneath20. Value and Exploitation: A Radical Theory at p. Commodities must also have a discernible objective form. in reality. The obvious features of commodities is that they take the form of either a good or a service. If we probe more deeply however.. In this way. An Analysis of the Commodity For Marx. a rigorous analysis of the commodity reveals the essence beyond the appearance of capitalism. G (1982) Capitalism. abounding in 16 17 18 19 20 21 Cohen.216 Marx.774 Goldway. value is delegated by material production 16: “The mechanism of fetishism is thus a form of mystification which consists in the collapsing of social facts into natural ones.. The commodity under capitalism is roughly akin to the cell in a biological organism. (1990) (eds) Supra at p. and easily understood.102 Hodgson. N (1971) Supra at p. a very queer thing. Its analysis shows that it is. A closer examination of the commodity however. G.35 10 . The buying and selling of commodities is the most obvious and pervasive feature of the capitalist system in which wealth is constituted by commodities. at first sight. the fetishism which metamorphoses the social. This physical criteria applies to goods (in their tangible physical form) as well as services (the exertion or activity that changes the form or disposition of objects). reveals its extremely complex nature. Marx himself writes of the importance of commodities: “It is the commodity form itself that is responsible for the enigma [fetishism] and its solution therefore requires an analysis of this form19”.116 Geras. the value form is fetishized17”. C & Maclom-Brown. (1978) Supra at p.216 Marx.the fetishism peculiar to bourgeois political economy.A. D (1967) “Appearance and Reality in Marx’s Capital” in Jessop.
we instinctively produce our means of subsistence. a condition of material exchange between man and nature. The nature of such wants. for instance they spring from the stomach or from the fancy.. In other words. This natural element is the useful activity of humans directed towards the appropriation of natural factors in one form or another. K (1976) Supra at p. D. use-value is a product of humans engaging with nature in accordance with their natural urge to work (their species being). use-value as a category always comprises a natural element. Marx describes a commodity as “an object outside us. use-value can be summarized into the following propositions: 1) Human beings naturally engage with nature and fashion goods that satisfy needs and desires.125 Marx maintains that although use-values contain different proportions of labour and natural products. whether.the design. This quality exists objectively. as it provides the initial insight from which Marx gradually begins to reveal the underlying reality of capitalist political economy. See Stevenson.metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties22”.L. value is 22 23 24 Marx. apart from the fact that some individuals may find it more useful than others. The conceptual dichotomy between use-value and exchange-value is of utmost importance. 2) This labour is qualitatively different. This is what Marx refers to as the “dual nature of value” comprising of use and exchange-value. In terms of utility theory. First and foremost. Use Value In general. (1998) Ten Theories of Human Nature at p. makes no difference 23”. K (1976) Supra at p. For instance . 4) Use-value is independent of the amount of labour required to produce that value. L & Haberman. The purpose of pointing this out is to contrast this view with that of utility which allocates value only in terms of the commodity's ability to provide subjective satisfaction. independent of their subjective utility.140-141 11 . The hammer thus has quality in the realization of its function. The ability of commodities to satisfy human wants and desires is just one facet of the commodity.163 Marx.. it is natural for human beings to work for their living: “. as humans. the hammering of nails. This natural engagement is common to all use-values and constitutes concrete labour24.labour is a natural condition of human existence. a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. shape and chosen physical materials for a hammer constitute its form and function. quite independent of the form of society. Use-value is thus an objective qualitative value that inheres in the commodity and manifests itself when its physical properties are engaged. This is based on his earlier works such as the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts in which Marx asserts that. 5) Use-value is an objective quality that inheres in objects. 3) This labour subsequently creates different goods that have a qualitative value in use. In other words.
and finally (with specific regard to labour) a body of law relating to contract between persons or corporations. At some point however. more pertinent. products of labour are made commensurate. they take one another’s place in the exchange process. type of value: exchange value. where goods are freely exchanged on the market. Marx is claiming that there exists a kind of value separate from the kind of value that presents itself as a given in capitalist society.126 The subservience of use-value to exchange-value requires certain presuppositions: Firstly that of the prominence of the market where qualitatively different use-values are exchanged. commodities in definite quantities are congruent. Value. G (1982) Supra at p. K (1976) Supra at p. The following quote shows Marx’s view that use-value is not simply a subjective concept: “The usefulness of a thing makes it a use value. despite their different physical properties. G (1982) Supra at p. As the chapter develops. and how the underlying essence of things is hidden by these appearance forms.36 Marx. K (1970) A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. therefore. 25 26 27 28 29 Hodgson. thirdly. are regarded as equivalents. Thus. use-value has been superseded by another. M at p. edited by Dobb. By identifying the use-value of commodities. provided the two are available in the correct proportion: “The exchange-value of a palace can be expressed in a definite number of tins of boot polish28”. in a capitalist society. It is conditioned by the physical properties of the commodity and has no existence apart from the latter26”. the legal rights of personal or corporate ownership of private property. But this usefulness does not dangle in mid-air. All commodities rely on this value derived from use because its essence constitutes their material wealth.43 Marx. whereas use-value is an intrinsic objective quality inhering in the useful qualities of goods in a given social environment 25. the reader will see how exchange-value contributes to the appearance forms of capitalism. For Marx. which is a value that arises from commodities exchanging with one another. and despite their motley appearance have a common denominator29.29 Marx. secondly. K (1970) Supra at p.extrinsically conferred in different degrees based on preference. Exchange-Value and the Labour Theory of Value Exchange-value27 is a quantitative value involving the proportions in which use-values are exchanged for one another. Exchange-value and commodity fetishism are inextricably bound together because fetishism explains how exchange-value becomes an attribute that seems to stem from the commodity itself. Quite irrespective. of their natural form of existence. and without regard to the specific character of the needs they satisfy as use-values. the division of labour in society. See Hodgson. use-value becomes superseded by exchange-value.28 12 . The result of this universal commensurability is that use-value (as the basis of differentiating between the products of labour) becomes replaced by the primacy of exchange value.
In pointing out the commensurability of commodities, Marx begins alluding to a common denominator which constitutes the real value of a commodity, beneath the immediately observable exchange-value that presents itself on the market. It must be noted that value in this sense is not the same as exchange-value. Value is a shared characteristic of the exchange values of all commodities. Exchange value therefore refers specifically to the ratio in which commodities are exchanged with one another, and is a category that is influenced by market forces such as supply and demand. Value, on the other hand, refers to a shared characteristic that underpins all commodities. For Marx, this common denominator cannot by definition be derived from the qualitatively different use-values or physical properties of the goods themselves. Trying to establish a common denominator out of this category is self-defeating because of the exponential differences that arise from a given commodity's structure, composite elements, complexity and function, to name a few. If neither utility, nor use-value, provide options for establishing a common denominator that underpins value, then what category can? We can break down Marx's answer to this problem in the following way: 1) Commodities are proportional in different quantities on the market 2) This uniform proportionality requires expression in terms of a common denominator 3) This common denominator is the source of exchange value 4) The common denominator is not found in use-value 5) Labour is common to all commodities 6) Labour is thus the source of exchange-value. For Marx, it follows that “if we disregard the use-value of commodities, only one property remains, that of being products of labour30”. Value therefore has its roots in the labour process. In capitalism however, exchange-value becomes the expression of this value; it represents the appearance form of value in trade and comes to be the only value that falsely conscientized individuals are aware of. Exchange-value therefore does not seem to derive its value from any underlying processes, and instead appears to transcend the labour process: the material content of the commodity that is formed during the productive process is concealed by the fetishized exchange-value that has come to be the measure of value for all commodities. This is the essence of the concept of fetishism: that exchange-value transcends value, thereby transcending value's material basis in labour. In capitalism, exchange-value ostensibly derives its value from the substance of the commodity itself. It is important to note that the commodity really has exchange-value. The problem that fetishism causes however, is that this value seems to emanate from it, not from the labour which has produced its true value. Fetishized exchange-value therefore, hides real value and its constituent processes, and creates a false appearance form which has led to an insufficient and deficient theoretical knowledge of the inner
Marx, K (1976) Supra at p.4-5
workings of capitalism. For Marx, it is not that commodities can be exchanged with another in certain ratios that is the source of deception in capitalist society. Instead, it is the reason why they come to exchange in the ratios that they do that is the “hidden secret”31. Marx argues that the discovery of exchange-value, and its relation to commodity fetishism, allows us to understand what constitutes the surface level operations of capitalism. His point is that exchange-value is what appears to the individual in capitalist society. It also appears to the mind of the individual that this value is an independent value because its source (labour) is divorced from the commodity itself (commodity fetishism and alienation respectively). Marx insists that commodity fetishism, or the fetishization of exchange-value, is an appearance form that is a phenomenal reality, all be it a false one. In the past, individuals examining capitalism and the market worked off these appearance forms, and therefore developed knowledge and theories that were insufficient, as well as deficient. In other words, they did not explain the inner workings of capitalism properly. Theories that accept the appearance forms of capitalism as their premises therefore can never determine what really constitutes value, and what gives rise to profit and inequality. Rosen argues that a surface appearance for Marx is “false to the extent that it suggests or promotes a theoretical explanation that is false (or bars the way to one that is true) 32”. To give an analogy of the theoretical deficiencies associated with appearance forms, we can think of how colour appears to the human mind. Colour appears to be something that emanates from the object itself, grass thus emits the colour green. However, beneath this surface appearance, scientists have discovered that objects do not possess or “give off” colour, but reflect and absorb different wavelengths of light which enter the human eye. Colour is thus a property of light instead of being a property of the object. Marx believes that his discovery of labour as the secret behind the value of commodities is similar to scientific discoveries such as the nature of colour. It is the actual composite processes, beneath what phenomenally appears to the human mind, that explains the essence of things. It is important to remember that the labour theory of value is what Marx considers to be “the inner workings” of capitalist society. He sees his project as a scientific discovery of the constituent elements and processes of capitalism, what he calls “the science of political economy”. For Marx, these constituent elements and processes have been hidden by commodity fetishism and alienation which leads individuals within capitalism to experience reality in a misleading, false way. It is not within the scope of this thesis to defend or critique the labour theory of value. The labour theory of value, as problematic as it is, is rather a demonstration of Marx's larger project which is to understand the underlying processes and relations of capitalism. The theory
Rosen, M (1996) Supra at p.208 Rosen, M (1994) Supra at p.209
of commodity fetishism still has merit, even if we disregard the labour theory of value. This is because fetishism explains how commodities are imbued with characteristics and powers that they do not have as inanimate objects33. Marx's critique, based upon the labour theory of value, was a strictly economic critique. This thesis seeks to develop Marx's original insight into general form of social critique that has no relationship to the labour theory of value. Apart from the labour theory of value, Marx also set out to understand the source of profit which has been obscured by the appearance forms of capitalism. For Marx, the discovery of the source of profit, or surplus value, reveals the exploitative side of the production process where workers are paid less than the true value of their labour. The Theory of Surplus Value In capitalist society the means of production34 are the property of the capitalists, or the bourgeois class. It is thus a misnomer to incite the liberal notion of the freedom to contract, because the worker is faced with the choice of either submitting herself to work for the capitalist, or starving to death due to the fact that there is no other way to secure subsistence. In other words, the freedom to dispose of one's labour power is fettered by the overarching circumstance of “work or perish”. “Thus it is but a juridical illusion that the workers, either as individuals or as members of an amalgamate group of labour-power owners, freely dispose of their property”35. The “property” which Korsch refers to here is the commodity of labour-power which Marx uncovers by applying the concept of the dual-nature of commodities to labour. If all commodities have a use-value and an exchange-value, so too must labour in its commodity form, because it is an object of exchange. This occurs when the labourer sells his potential to work to the capitalist:
Our friend the money-owner must be lucky enough to find within the sphere of circulation, on the market, a commodity whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption is therefore itself an objectification of labour, hence a creation of value. The possessor of money does find such a special commodity on the market: the capacity for labour, in other words labour power36 .For Marx, profit cannot originate as a whole in the sphere of exchange. Exchange is merely the redistribution
This will be the focus of chapter 4. According to Gerry Cohen the means of production are the physical productive resources such as machinery, raw materials and premises (1978) Karl Marx's Theory of History at p.485 Korsch, K (1938) Karl Marx at p.134 Marx, K (1976) Supra at p.270
is characterized by a peculiarity. In other words.116 16 . This statement is true in so far as labour's use-value is the source of all exchange-values. use-value takes the form of concrete labour. Labour however. For Marx. The market thus cannot add to existing resources and cannot generate profit in this sphere37. Labour thus produces more value than it requires itself. to daily reproduce his labouring power. Marx surmises that labour is paid only as much as it is required to reproduce that labour-power. say. He will. Labour-power is converted or expended by simply making the worker work. But this does no disable him from working ten or twelve hours a day. Exchange-value on the other hand. But by paying the daily or weekly value of the spinners labouring power. K (1976) Supra at p.52 Marx. and is thus allowed to make use of that property and reap any benefits that accrue from it. K (1970) Supra at p. has acquired the right to consume or use the commodity she has bought. which surplus labour will realize itself in a surplus value and a surplus produce39. the capitalist will realize a value of six shillings because she pays for six hours of labour. This is where Marx's identification of labourpower. however. like any other purchaser. The value produced by concrete labour (labour-power in use) is. the worker expends her potential labour and converts this into concrete labour which is the realization of labour's use-value. When applying the concept of the dual-nature of commodities to labour. or the value of his labouring power.80 Marx. he will. make him work daily. have to work six other hours.of existing resources and commodities which use the market as their medium. or purposive productive activity (concrete labour in its potential form is called labour-power). therefore. it is this sort of exchange between capital and 37 38 39 Hodgson. In buying the labour-power of the worker the capitalist. the capitalist has acquired the right of using that labouring power during the whole day or week. twelve hours. G (1982) Supra at p. which I shall call hours of surplus labour. Over and above the six hours required to replace his wages. The value of labour power is thus only equal to the amount of money required for sustaining the existence of the labourer. which he will do by working six hours daily. The nature of this peculiarity is that its value in use is greater than its value in exchange. By paying the labourer three shillings. concrete labour and labour-time become important. is comprised of labour-time or homogeneous social labour38. [the labourer] must daily reproduce a value of three shillings. Marx demonstrates this by using of the example of the spinner: We have seen that. Labour-power is thus a commodity that is put on the market when the labourer requires work/employment. quite distinct from the amount required to maintain the reproduction of the labourer. For Marx. the capitalist pays the labourer for the value of her work. and receives twelve in return.
116 Marx. But what prevents the exploited from arriving at a knowledge of their exploitation? And what keeps the exploitative conditions of capitalism intact? By now the reader should be aware of the fact that it is the way in which individuals experience reality that constitutes their understanding of it. The remainder of this chapter will be devoted to an understanding of how fetishism. where in actual fact it is worth double this42.labour which forms the basis of capitalist production40. maintains the false appearance forms of capitalism. Money and Fetishism At this point we must return to the concept of fetishism. Marx believes however.116 Marx. between worker and capitalist. then the individual will not arrive at a knowledge of these relationships. For Marx. in its various forms. This is conceptually important because it brings us to understand the true nature of money as a social relation. In terms of the example above. K (1976) Supra at p. independent of its social foundations.218 17 . K (1976) Supra at p. The source of surplus-value in the exploitation of the worker is hidden in capitalist society. For Marx. remain hidden. if capitalism operates in such a way that certain relationships between humans and objects. the labourer receives her wages after her labour is performed. The result of this is that the value or price of her spent-labour (labour power) necessarily appears as the price or value of labour itself. In other words. She is also unaware of the productive worth of her own labour as she has never had access to the means of production herself. For the labourer. The wage form is the result of the exchange of labour power for capital. that he has identified what creates and reproduces these appearance forms: alienation and commodity fetishism. N (1971) Supra at p. In the wage system. the labourer will consider the value of twelve hours of work to be three shillings. in order to identify one of the ways in which commodity fetishism acts to conceal the social relations that underpin commodity production. in particular the fetishism of money. the concept and function of money in capitalism encapsulates the essence of fetishism like no other commodity. and the capitalist as capitalist41”. For Marx.117 Geras. money as a commodity demonstrates all the characteristics of a autonomous “thing”. This transaction. humans and humans etc. 40 41 42 43 Marx. and subsequently the nature of capital as a product of exploited human labour. the true productivity of the labourer is also something that is not truly revealed. the inequality of exchange is falsely disguised as an equal exchange43. that occurs under the false pretense of a “free contract”. constitutes the wages system which must “constantly result in reproducing the working man as a working man. K (1976) Supra at p.
the translation of all exchange-values into money constitutes a powerful form of fetishism. the individual does not see that labour is common to all commodities. because of alienation and fetishism. K (1976) Supra at p. and are reducible to money.168 Marx. Money appears to humankind as magically possessing value. independent of the social processes that. For Marx. money appears to have value independently. the exchange values of commodities are reducible to something common. In modern capitalism.46”. which they represent more or less of. K (1970) Supra at p.Money emerges from an economic need to determine and regulate the ratio in which commodities are exchanged with one another.216 Marx. It thus responds to the common need that arises from the exchange-process of translating different commodities into expressions of one overarching commodity. In other words. It is not only the values of the objects on the market that become fetishized. just as they come out the bowels of the earth. refining etc. money. N (1971) Supra at p. However. all the illusions that arise from the monetary system stem from the alienating capitalist system of production. Money instead becomes the commodity which all the different commodities are equal to. and the value of the commodities it comes to represent. money functions as an expression of all commodity's exchange values in terms of gold and silver. in reality. are forthwith the direct incarnation of all human labour. but 44 45 46 47 Marx. For the individual dealing with appearance forms. in its form as the universal equivalent. Money itself is a commodity. Money. it has a value that is determined by the abstract labour time required to produce each unit of gold or silver (mining. represents a social relation of production45”. Up to this point I have explained why money is considered to be “a striking” manifestation of fetishism. K (1993) Capital III at p. Being subject to reified appearance forms.49 18 . All commodities become equal to a third thing. 92 quoted in Geras. melting. The fetishism of the money commodity is slightly different to other commodities because money is value itself: “This perverted appearance manifests itself merely in a more striking manner in money than it does in commodities47”. For Marx. Marx maintains that the nature of this system necessarily hides the fact that “money. This is because money is based upon the commodities of gold and silver. K (1970) Supra at p. though a physical object with distinct properties. possesses a common use-value to all: that of being a carrier of exchange-value. For Marx. Individuals are therefore. the result is that the values of commodities come to be expressed in terms of money. constitute its value.34 Marx.): “These objects. gold and silver. unable to see that labour underpins value. in different ratios. instead of labour-time which is the real source of value: “The transformation of values into different prices of production serves to obscure the basis for determining true value itself44”.
false way. it enables humans to make use of objects. and appear as phases of the circulation of money. It is these false appearance 48 49 50 51 52 53 Torrance. and appears as the interest on the initial capital invested. appears to grow on its own accord. money fetishism. The appearance form of capital to bear interest “becomes a property of money to generate value and yield interest. capital fetishism) create circumstances which lead individuals to perceive reality in a particular. in capitalist society. J (1995) Supra at p. However. as well as objects. even though its content and essence are accumulated labour52.what about money's relation to capital? Torrance explains that in its Marxist use. For Marx. J (1995) Karl Marx's Theory of Ideas at p.216 Ollman. endowed with the ability to grow independently.101 Torrance. the above forms of fetishism (commodity fetishism. the mediator between humans and their objects. Humans experience this real power and subsequently base their conception of reality upon this experience. much as it is an attribute of pear trees to bear pears50”. which therefore. B (1971) Supra at p. money possesses real power. but rather a prefinite social production relation. capital appears as a subject.101 Marx.794 Geras. This is the interest bearing ability of capital that is misconstrued as stemming from the nature of capital itself.384 Marx.203-204 19 . appears misleadingly. Money has power because of its social function as the mediator of all transactions. Capital however. For Marx. which for Marx. we can still speak of money fetishism because. money exercises “real power” over humans because it is the universal mediator between humans. is a false experience53. Marx argues that the real reason that capital grows is because of the constitutive abstract labour of workers working to create surplus value. K (1993) Supra at p. the apparent ability of capital to expand by virtue of some inherent property constitutes “capital fetishism”. In this role as mediator. For Marx. To the capitalist however. capital is a sum of exchange-value that is owned for the purpose of appropriating the surplus labour of others48. N (1971) Supra at p. The things that humans need require money to purchase. Money in capitalism is the mediator between humans and the objects they produce. presents itself in an objective form. which is manifested in a thing and lends this thing a specific social character 51”. K (1993) Supra at p. to have the power of earning more money 49. belonging to a definite historical formation of society. Money is therefore. Capital therefore. If we disregard the labour theory of value. “Capital is not a thing. Production processes are carried on as an investment to realize a profit. it is the labour process that is responsible for the growth of capital. Investments of capital are plunged into production which produces a surplus (see the surplus theory of value). this is a clear case of fetishism that conceals the fact that the source of capital's growth lies in the exploitation of the labourer.
indeed. or a failure of recognition on behalf of the individual: “The idea that products have their values intrinsically is not so much an economic illusion (an illusion that in some way limits the capacity of agents to engage in economic transactions) as a theoretical illusion about the economy (a misconception regarding the way in which the economy works)54”. and the predominance of the market. The next section will thus focus upon the conditions of social life under capitalism. K (1976) Supra at p. the social and the political are products of the alienated labour process which becomes abstracted under the dominance of the market. M (1996) Supra at p.168 Marx. But why do exchange-values not make this source of value apparent? Marx argues that exchange-values on the market are “accidental and ever-fluctuating55”. false) theory about its etiology. has important repercussions for the social. as well as Rosen's objection to this. For Marx. is too turbulent for us to recognize the inner workings that determine surface phenomena. promotes a naïve (and. as it appears.209 Marx. Commodity fetishism thus explains the individual's false perception of an object. what are the characteristics of social life governed by commodity fetishism and alienation? Commodity Fetishism and the Distortion of the Social The effects of the homogenization of labour. false explanations. It hides the social relations that determine the commodity's value. Marx argues that the false reality of commodity 54 55 56 Rosen. Beneath all this is the discovery of the labour theory of value. according to Marx. and the source of its value. which. Marx believes that surface reality. In the final section of this chapter I will examine Marx's argument that the appearance forms of capitalism persist despite the discovery of the labour theory of value. Commodity fetishism is one of the primary sources of this perceptual illusion. In other words. and subsequent theoretical deficiency. The object perceived is deceptive to the extent that the immediate evidence it presents the observer with. In the next section I will be examining the social and political implications of commodity fetishism and the “false reality” that it constructs. its origins and causes.forms that produce a deficient understanding of what determines the value of commodities. K (1976) Supra at p. In the same way that the law of gravity asserts itself when a person's house collapses on top of him56”. Rosen holds that the illusion is not a direct perceptual illusion. In other words. operates in as a “regulative law of nature.168 20 . I will initially look at the alienation of the individual worker from the products of her work and how this contributes to an understanding of how individuals have come to be dominated by the realm of fetishized commodity relations under capitalism. He also argues that this turbulent surface invites other superficial.
For example. their in-built values. social entities that determine their exchange-ratios by. Hence it also reflects the social relation of the producers to the sum total of labour as a social relation between objects. According to the theory of commodity fetishism. 2) Illusions regarding the relations between the producers themselves. Marx's account of commodity fetishism can thus be reduced to two kinds of illusion: 1) Illusions regarding the social character of the products of labour. or properties. that are distorted in capitalist society. Marx argues that social relations have come to be confused with their medium: commodities. ignorant of. independent of the producers themselves. what appears to be. From this it becomes clear 57 Marx. We have already discussed how fetishism works. inner workings of capitalism. In this case. according the concept of commodity fetishism. And secondly. exploitative. and what it does in an economic sense. Individuals are falsely conscientized because of their objective experience of the phenomenal appearance forms of capitalism. the money and the pair of shoes appear to relate to one another independently in the same way that individuals interact with one another on a social level. Rosen argues that in this passage Marx identifies two separate facts. in the act of purchasing a commodity. But what are commodity fetishism's social and political repercussions? Marx answers this question by arguing that: The mysterious character of the commodity form consists therefore simply in the fact that the commodity reflects the social characteristics of men's own labour as objective characteristics of the products of labour themselves. as the socio-natural properties of these things. the products of labour become commodities. or how social relations between individuals appear as the relations between things. an individual. the “social character” of human's labour appears falsely as an objective character of the products themselves. a relation which exists apart from and outside the producers. sensuous things which are at the same time supra sensible or social57. and alienated from. the producer's own relationship to the collective labour process in which they participate appears as a relation between commodities. Through this substitution. sees the transaction as an exchange between her wage packet and the pair of shoes that she wants.164-165 21 . This entire process however. leaves the individual. their social relationship with one another. First. and the producer of the shoes. With regards to the first point above. who laboured to earn the money. commodities interact as independent. K (1976) Supra at p.fetishism and alienation hide the real. In other words. or how the individuals of society relate to one another as alienated producers. people experience social relations as value relations between commodities. as a consequence of the first.
166 22 . that the social relations between humans have come to take the form of the relations between things. Individuals governed and mediated by the market come into contact with one another only in the act of exchange. also rings true if we consider the relationship between individuals in the market place. For example. homogenized labour necessarily hides the social character of production. Human beings relate to each other as things because they do not recognize the human labour and social relations that underpin the production of a commodity (for instance. This is what Marx means by saying that the social relations between humans appear as the relations between things: “To the producers. Humans are thus alienated from the constituent elements of the productive process. the producer acknowledges the fact that the goods she producers are socially useful.. the commodity appears on the market as something independent of all these different processes. she is quite correct. the social relations between their private labours appear as what they are. aiming to satisfy the wants that are signaled to him through the market (2).e. the labourer must labour usefully (1). It is thus the collective labour of 58 Marx. For Marx. but rather as material relations between persons and social relations between things58”. and satisfy the manifold wants of the individuals of society. both individuals are represented by the commodities that they offer to the open market. Marx is arguing that the individual producer becomes aware of the role of the market in determining the way in which she labours. Marx argues that abstracted. the distribution. the collective production of humankind does not entail the production of individuals for the subsequent consumption of individuals. However. the packaging. Instead. instead of the other way around. i. the worker is represented by the the potential labour she can perform (labour power). They do not appear as direct social relations between persons and their work. In other words.that individuals do not relate to one another as social producers of commodities. this belief is false because it is the labourer who creates socially useful goods that constitute the wealth of goods on the market. the different types of labour. In this. the handling and the advertising). and the capitalist is represented by the capital she can pay in exchange. according to Marx's account of “the twofold social character of labour”. That is.. In other words. Their interaction is governed by what exchange values those individuals represent. As I have established earlier in the chapter. Instead. Marx's point. when a labourer comes into contact with the capitalist. the fetishized commodities they produce conduct these social relations independently of their producers. This leads us to the second point I made above concerning the way in which human beings associate with one another in capitalist society. the producer also believes that it is the market that makes her labour useful. K (1976) Supra at p.
and values are turbulent. in fact. The important point for Marx here is to show how human beings have become subject to the determinations of the market because of commodity fetishism and alienation. the principles of scientific inquiry are inconsistent with Marx's account of the 59 60 61 Rosen. which makes labour appear to be the instrument of the market. that is the foundation of the market. in virtue of the market value of its products whereas. M (1996) Supra at p. it is a) believed falsely that individual labour is socially useful only derivatively. is different. K Capital I at p. Rosen believes that we can't make sense of how fetishism works from a scientific materialist perspective. Marx argues that the world of commodities “veils rather than reveals” the social character of private labour and of the relations between the individual producers60. The reality that fetishism and alienation construct however. this is not how reality appears to the falsely conscientized individual. The reality of this situation is that humans create useful goods for others. and the claim that this phenomenal form conceals its constituent real relations (and falsifies them). As we have come to see in this chapter however. b) labour has that character intrinsically. More specifically. Objections to the Theory of Commodity Fetishism Rosen argues that the link between Marx's claim that social reality has a surface appearance.201 23 . The flow of goods fluctuates.211 Marx. instead of the market being the product of the collective labour of society. M (1996) Supra at p. and that their production is social because it satisfies other human wants and desires. is tenuous 61. Commodities and the market are thus human constructs. Rosen summarizes the false reality constructed by the labour process as follows: “In the case of the labour process. as part of the collective labour of society59” The world of commodities and commodity production thus produces false beliefs which are based upon a real experience of a false reality.individuals. For Rosen.211 Rosen. With regards to point 2 above. The market appears as a mass of commodities that interact with one another as independent social entities. producing useful things for one another.87 in Rosen M (1996) Supra at p.
Marx alleges that individuals falsely believe that commodities have values that are intrinsic to them. the atmosphere itself remained unaltered62.discovery of the inner workings of capitalism. and that the social character of commodities derives from exchange value. having now discovered the truth about that object. persist despite uncovering the “real relations” beneath these appearance forms.212 24 . so far as they are values. an epoch in the history of the development of the human race. Marxism should abandon this scientific materialist approach. What is true only of the particular form of production with which we are dealing. are but material expressions of the human labour spent in their production. to be just as real and final. the production of commodities. As a result. such as commodity fetishism. namely. that this is not the issue: “the question. indeed. His principal claim is that knowledge of the true source of value in labour. is the fact that these beliefs are theoretical in character. as the fact that. Marx's claim is the exact opposite: that the mystifying appearance forms of capitalism. Most important for Rosen however. and reconsider the scientific nature of the labour theory of value and its relation to the appearance forms of capitalism. With regards to the economy. notwithstanding the discovery above referred to. should be dissolved by knowledge of its falsehood. contained in the quotation above. despite Marx's evidence of the contrary. is tenuous. rather. as a socially distorting phenomenon. should dispel the objective.87 in Rosen. which character assumes in the product of the form of value – this fact appears to the producers. after the discovery by science of the component gases of air. Rosen believes however. M (1996) Supra at p. fails because the scientific composition of air is in no way similar to the composition of the commodity producing labour process. Rosen claims that Marx's attempt to show how fetishism persists. unlike one's engagement with the 62 63 Marx. false appearances of capitalism. Rosen also argues that Marx's scientific analogy. and the homogenizing effects of the market upon the social character of private labour. is whether. Marx argues that the discovery of the real inner workings of capitalism leaves the appearance forms in tact: The recent scientific discovery that the products of labour. individuals will still continue to entertain their previous false beliefs about the object. In Capital. K Capital I at p. It is not a question of whether the atmosphere itself changes but whether what we believe about it does 63”. M (1996) Supra at p. marks. that the specific social character of independent private acts of labour consists in their equality by virtue of being human labour.211 (my emphasis) Rosen. but by no means dissipates the objective illusion through which the social character of labour appears to be an objective character of the products themselves. Rosen objects to Marx's account of commodity fetishism because he believes that commodity fetishism. Rosen argues that Marx is correct in saying that knowledge of the component gases of air leaves the atmosphere unchanged (a scientists' discovery about an object should not change the object itself).
Marx's analogy concerning the component gases of the atmosphere is not entirely successful. and criticizes Marx's theory of fetishism based upon Marx's scientific analogy quoted above. alienated appearance forms. and reinforce. this would not give rise to a spontaneous change in belief. Rosen overlooks the nature of capitalist political economy which Marx is referring to. For Marx. and only if. then there seems to be no reason to suppose that the discovery of the truth will not dispel the illusion64”. Firstly. The capitalist political economy continues to reproduce circumstances that instill false beliefs which stem from the individual's objective experience of capitalist society. not committed to maintaining that a belief is true if. and all its constituent institutions. This is because. for Marx. But does Marx's materialist position commit him to the view that fetishism cannot survive once it has been recognized as false? Marx's materialism is not identical to positivism. For Marx. Knowledge is thus not tantamount to action. not only does the economic system affirm experience. Rosen's asks “why should we assume that these beliefs will persist in the face of contrary evidence? If fetishism is a theoretical illusion. but importantly. Admittedly. M (1996) Supra at p. Marx is therefore. fully established set of systemically functional institutions. is that knowledge of capitalism's false appearances does not amount to the undoing of the material processes and systems that continue to produce these false appearances.212 25 . the material base of capitalism (the forces of production) constructs an objective reality which the individual experiences. that Marx is making. and will continue to objectively experience so long as the structure of capitalist society remains intact. the labourer's experience of social relations. Rosen does not consider the nature of the political economy that actively produces appearance forms. even if the labourer possessed knowledge of the true nature of the economy. The point here. it is empirically verifiable. but I will insist on the other hand that it is redeemable. practices and social relations. the capitalist political economy is a self-reproducing. In other words. there are constant affirmations of one's (false) experience. More importantly however. Marx's argument concerning the persistence of false beliefs must be read within his overarching conception of the functioning and nature of capitalist political economy. So for Marx. Marx's analogy must not be read only within the context of commodity fetishism and the concealment of the social relations that exist in the labour process. which is the experience of fetishized. The language that is employed within society also serves to confirm its appearance forms: constant talk of the “price of labour” for example and references to the productive 64 Rosen. political institutions make laws that are compatible with.atmosphere (which for Rosen. in capitalist society. false beliefs and defunct theories. in critiquing Marx's scientific analogy. consists of breathing) which is wholly “untheoretical”. operates to consistently construct and maintain an objectively immanent set of circumstances. This means that capitalism. In other words.
Meyerson argues similarly (from an epistemological perspective) that it is possible to acknowledge evidence but irrationally persist in belief66. and orientate herself within.154 Meyerson. separation and alienation which leads her to believe in. and the work of George Lukács.154 Meyerson. persist in society. Again. D (1991) Supra at p. For Meyerson. D (1991) Supra at p. despite Marx's work concerning class consciousness. Firstly. Lukács' work is of importance because it directly attempts to give an account of why the exploited working class continue to accept the rule of the privileged few. evidence is recognized but fails to have the appropriate impact on the inference because one kind of mental phenomena is passive. Lukács' account also approaches the 65 66 67 Meyerson. a labourer may read Marx who gives her an account of the value of commodities. The labourer may well read and understand that she shares her class position and interests with other labourers. in capitalist society. domination. Finally. D (1991) False Consciousness at p.157-161 26 . which result in exploitation. despite his epistemological breakthrough.ability of capital65. In this case. I will approach the issue of domination by describing Horkheimer and Adorno's account of domination and how it is maintained by the commercialization of culture (the culture industry). Marx's theory of commodity fetishism and capitalist domination requires a more tenable account of how certain cognitive phenomena occur. Secondly. However. reason is passive in this circumstance and is supplanted by experience which is more vivid. This thesis will approach Rosen's objection in three broad ways. I will show how the persisting appearance forms of capitalism. This brings us to the next chapter. The work that follows is an attempt to explain why commodity fetishism. are explained by Lukács' theory of reification. alienation. as well as the social relations that underpin the products of her labour. For example. Marx believes that illusions can only be properly exorcised if the society that produces those illusions is changed. domination and the reproduction of the status quo. However. the appearance forms of capitalism67. inequality and most importantly. Relating this argument to Marx's work and my argument above. to say that people do not change their beliefs in the face of contrary evidence is not to give an account of how this occurs. This lays the foundation for the work in the following chapters. the experience of the alienated labourer is more believable and “real” than a complex theoretical account. and attempt to provide an account of one of the ways in which individuals actively engage in behaviour that reproduces conditions of inequality and domination. I will re-evaluate these explanatory theories in light of the central question in domination theory (why the dominated many continue to accept the rule of the privileged few). Marx does not give a full account of exactly why the appearance forms of capitalism persist. her experience of social reality is one of commodity fetishism.
question of why alienation and fetishism persist in capitalist society by identifying the phenomenon of reification. 27 . reification explains how the individual's experience of capitalism influences patterns of thought and behaviour that actively maintain and reproduce the status quo. As the reader will see in the next chapter.
The following questions subsequently became important: “How could the relationship between theory and practice now be conceived? Could theory preserve hope for the future? In changing historical circumstances how could the revolutionary ideal be justified?68”. History and Class Consciousness thus seeks to extract the concepts. D (2004) “Introduction to Critical Theory” in Rassmusen. The work of George Lukács attempted to directly approach these problems facing domination theory. once orthodoxy. Lukács was one of the first theorists to approach the problem of how political. Lukács thought that these approaches constituted “contemplative materialism” which neglected the importance of human subjectivity or agency. This combination. Lukács' work is a shift from orthodox Marxism. It is precisely these conditions. His remedy was to introduce Hegel's concept of reflection (put forward in The Phenomenology of Spirit) to Marx's concept of class consciousness.) and how these affect the way in which these conditions are perceived and understood (the appearance forms). The forecasts of historical materialism had not come to fruition. which created a basis for a re-examination of Marxist theory and practice. and the campaigning of the radical left parties and their attempts to conscientize the working class had also failed. Lukács' History and Class Consciousness cannot be underestimated in its contribution to the 68 Held. economic and social structures of capitalism become entrenched. The importance of Lukács' work for critical theory is how it challenged orthodoxy by rethinking Marxism in relation to contemporary events. the orthodox approaches failed to consider the objective conditions which constitute reality (such as economic and social institutions etc. In other words. Lukács argued. J (eds) Critical Theory at p. Lukács believed. theories and principles out of Marxist thought. specifically the determinist and positivist interpretations of historical materialism.Chapter 2 Introduction: The Contribution of Lukács The problems that Lukács was faced with when writing History and Class Consciousness arose directly from the failed Marxist approach to social change during the early 20 th Century. could break the mental shackles of reification and bring about social change. and why the appearance forms of capitalism persist despite Marx's seminary work. which can be subsequently reconstructed so as to achieve the same goal.16 28 . Both these approaches emphasize the unalterable stages of historical development (driven by a seemingly autonomous economic “base”). or reification sets in. that provide explanations for what is preventing the emergence of a revolutionary subject. D & Swindal. especially in developed capitalist nations.
that is. as something strange and alien to them – it thus appears as a “thing”. this has not taken place but we can still talk of its objective possibility because it is contained within the dynamic of the historical process. In this chapter. D (2004) Supra at p. the proletariat's position is unique because it has the ability to both understand. and change.Frankfurt School (the focus of next chapter's work). For Lukács. The proletariat is thus society's only hope for change: “As the pivot in the capitalist totality it has the capacity to see and comprehend the essential social relations and processes70”.18 29 . and must look to develop consciousness and active political involvement in this way71. had no meaning outside the struggle of the proletariat. what he believes to be. Historical materialism. For Lukács. for Lukács. led to the decline of the political relevance of his theory because of the historical failure of proletarian class consciousness69. Lukács argues that as yet. Theory must thus look to fill the space between the actual and the possible. However. Lukács work in History and Class Consciousness sought to assess this problem by first of all explaining why the dissolution of the appearance forms of social reality had not taken place. and sets out to describe how this realization comes about.17-18 Held. J (2004) Supra at p. the worker and his or her product to commodities. Reification can be described as the appearance of people's productivity. D (2004) Supra at p. D (2004) Supra at p.17 Held. Lukacs' insistence on the class consciousness of the proletariat as the sole initiator of revolutionary action. It is stressed that this is not simply a subjective phenomenon. Lukács sought to explain how reification comes about.97 Held. R “Concerning the Central Idea of Adorno's Philosophy” in Rasmussen. Secondly. D & Swindal. I will substantiate these points by following Lukács' progression of thought that I explained 69 70 71 72 Bubner. Fourthly. or agency. instead reification arises from the productive process which reduces social relations themselves to thing-like relations – reduces. what is it about humankind's relationship with the world that gives rise to the phenomenon of reification? Thirdly. Lukács identifies the group of individuals (the proletariat) that will arrive at this knowledge of humankind's dialectical relationship with the world. society radically. Lukács provides. the most predominant barrier to the development of revolutionary consciousness is reification. both accurately reflecting the reality of the capitalist exchange process and hindering its cognitive penetration72. a solution to the problem of reification by applying the principles of dialectical materialism to the relationship between humans and the object world. Reification is a socially necessary illusion. In other words.
Lukács aimed to directly approach the problem of why appearance forms persist. A (1981) Lukács. social version of fetishism is the “objective”. At the end of the previous chapter it was concluded that Marx did not provide a sufficient account of why people do not change their beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. which bears down upon the subject in capitalist society. 72 30 . in all areas of capitalist social life. This position differs from an orthodox Marxist one because the focus is shifted from the “mechanistic influence of social conditions on ideology and consciousness to the generalized patterning of all dimensions of society by a single form75”. and why the dominated continue to accept their social position. we must establish the link between commodity fetishism and Lukács' concept of reification. It was thus Lukács' aim in History and Class Consciousness to extend this to a critique of captialist society in general. For Lukács however. S (1993) Supra at p. and its contribution to domination theory. this single – or objective form – has its roots in the fetishized commodity structure which has created a society in its own image.137 Feenberg. On the other hand. There is thus an inextricable link between commodity fetishism and 73 74 75 Lukács argues accordingly that “it has often been claimed – and not without certain justification – that the famous chapter in Hegel’s Logic treating of Being. or appearance form of capitalism. It might be claimed with perhaps equal justification that the chapter dealing with the fetish character of the commodity contains within itself the whole of historical materialism and the whole self-knowledge of the proletariat seen as the knowledge of capitalist society (and the societies that preceded it)”.briefly above. For Lukács. this critique had not been drawn to its necessary conclusion because commodity fetishism itself was a strictly economic critique. its conceptual relation to commodity fetishism. I will focus upon reification. Non-Being and Becoming contains the whole of his philosophy. Marx and the Sources of Critical Theory at p. History and Class Consciousness attempts to draw out the wider implications of the commodification of things to incorporate all aspects of life in bourgeois society. Most importantly however. Lukács’ work tries to fully explain the effect of this objective situation upon the consciousness of those who live in such a world74. Reification and the Commodity The insights provided by Marx's theory of commodity fetishism form the basis for Lukács' entire critique of capitalist society73. But firstly. this generalized. For Lukács. Reification is important because it is an extension of Marx’s critique of formal economic rationality which extends to all areas of formalism. Perkins. By elaborating upon Marx's theory of commodity fetishism. I will conclude this chapter with some critiques of Lukács' work in History and Class Consciousness.
Reification is thus an explanation of why bourgeois dominance and proletarian passivity have continued to exist. and liberate themselves from servitude to the ‘second nature’ so created77. In Lukács’ words. for George Lukács. or as Ollman puts it “[i]n the fetishism of commodities the appearance of the metamorphosis of value is mistaken for its essence76”. of all the seemingly separate spheres of society. G (1971) History and Class Consciousness at p. the commodity in capitalist society becomes Crucial for the subjugation of men’s consciousness to the forms in which this reification finds expression and for attempts to comprehend the process or the rebel against its disastrous effects. One of the principle reasons for this is the reified or “natural” appearance of capitalist society which is based on the production of commodities. the result of this is the “natural”. The result of this is a social reality that is an image of capitalist principles of production. In this chapter I intend to show how. In the case of commodity fetishism. For Lukács. or “given”.reification because the alienation and commodity fetishism that results from the labour process is projected onto society as a whole. on a broader social scale. can be reduced to the broad principles of calculability and predictability.199 Lukács. as discussed by Weber. As I have explained in the previous chapter. But what are these principles of capitalist production. appearance of capitalism which is better explained by the concept of reification. which provide us with a means to identify action that would 76 77 Ollman. this process of production involves the alienation of the product from the labourer herself. knowledge and consciousness. The conceptual essence of the fetishized commodity is pervasive in all areas of capitalist life and forms the foundation of “objective” society (the way in which subjects experience the world). Our life world is thus a projection of the logic of commodity fetishism.86 31 . Rationalization. an individual’s activity (labour) becomes something objective and independent of the worker. The commodity subsequently appears on the market as an object that possesses value independently. B (1971) Supra at p. the system of commodity production is immensely important here because the logic of capitalist commodity production is projected onto society as a whole. but for the fetishization. Lukács argues that the system of commodity production is responsible. not only for the fetishization of the commodity itself (as Marx argued). For Lukács. with the autonomous appearance (fetishization) of certain “natural laws” which govern social behaviour. and how does Lukács substantiate his argument that these principles have come to determine social reality as we know it? Lukács was influenced by the work of Max Weber and agreed that the principles of the capitalist productive process consist of a continuous trend towards greater rationalization. or apparent autonomy. this fetishism occurs in the same way.
In modern capitalism. A (1981) Supra at p. believed that from the forms of early capitalism to the peak of the free market.91 in Feenberg. of its knowledge and powers. A (1981) Supra at p. profit). Marx himself was at pains to express the increasing mechanization of the labour process which was alienating in nature. For Lukács and Weber. and more generally. G (1971) Supra at p. The nature of labour in advanced capitalism is thus mechanistic.94 Feenberg. the capitalist organization of labour is the origin of all forms of reification: “the destiny of the worker becomes the general destiny of the entire society78”. this progression towards rationality entails the incremental erosion of the qualitative. political and economic conditions of capitalism. In short.maximize efficiency (and in capitalist society. the worker's world becomes increasingly ordered by fixed laws which appear to be independent of her will or consciousness79.95 32 . the worker finds herself confronted with a completed and independent world of objects which operates according to its own logic and rhythms. obscured behind the synchronic rationality of the given productive system is the diachronic development of the human species itself. Lukács. as a historical human construction: It is characteristic of reification that this appearance of autonomy and objective lawfulness obscures the fact that the machine itself is a product of human labour.94 Feenberg. According to Lukács. following Marx. For Lukács. A (1981) Supra at p. it is the capitalist structure of the work process (based upon the principles of calculability and predictability) that leads to the reification of the social. rational and specialized operations which necessarily entail the separation of the worker from the final product of labour. and of the class relations of the society which created it80. that its essence is not to be found merely in the structure of its operation. repetitive and specialized. Lukács’ analysis here falls neatly along Marxist lines. Formal Rationality The reification of the processes and institutions of capitalism result in the individual passively orientating 78 79 80 Lukács. It was precisely this alienation that produced seemingly autonomous commodities that prevented humankind from seeing the economy (and the value of commodities) as a network of relations between individuals. the process of labour is progressively broken down into abstract. It is this world that is imposed upon the worker. human and individual attributes of the worker. but also in the human activity which first created it and gave it that structure. but also very efficient. For Lukács.
82 33 . As in the case of commodity fetishism. is a rationality that deals with appearances only. and not the subject of events”. humankind has come to rationalize the world through the application of a “taken for granted” overarching framework: that of formal rationality. without understanding their underlying essence. The difference however. These laws become universal and necessary. formal rationality concerns itself with the way in which social reality functions. Rationality then develops a knowledge of the formal characteristics of things. or the “naturalization” of the social. The laws that govern property relations. Formal rationality does not. The rationality characteristic of capitalism however. Rationality here refers to the establishment of rules which yield an understanding of the causal relationships between things in the world82. governance. these social relations are hidden from the 81 “Man in capitalist society confronts a reality ‘made’ by himself (as a class) which appears to him to be a natural phenomenon alien to himself. he is wholly at the mercy of its ‘laws’. we must look closely at the very nature of rationality itself. Lukács' intention here is to show how the logic of capitalist production has become pervasive in modern society. The processes and laws that are produced specifically by the capitalist mode of production come to operate as unquestionably as laws of nature do. Lukàcs (1971) Supra at p. his activity is confined to the exploitation of the inexorable fulfilment of certain individual laws for his own (egoistic) interests. where scientific method provides rules for gathering evidence and evaluating hypotheses on the basis of this evidence. therefore nurtures the complicity of the dominated who reproduce the validity of the laws of capitalism. conceals these inner workings. and economic systems of capitalism. But even while acting. Reification. and other social institutions. For Lukács. are therefore thought to operate in the same way as physical laws. The reified appearance forms do not reveal the inner workings and processes behind the appearance forms. For Lukács. or exchange in the market-place for instance. Formal rationality is therefore. law. social and economic laws are grounded in the network of relations between people. Instead. he remains the object. is that bureaucratic. Formal rationality therefore. Reification. confines itself to an understanding of the causal relationships that exist at surface level. a knowledge of the surface relationships between things which come to operate as laws in capitalist society. and operate similarly to physical laws such as the law of gravity. this passive behaviour leads people to accept the world as they experience it. a rule is formed. grasp the inner workings or constitutive processes that generate these appearance forms. in fact. and how do they contribute to the reproduction of the appearance forms of capitalist society? In order to answer this.herself within a social reality that is outside of her control81. For Lukács. and it is therefore people who can change and manipulate these laws. as Marx would put it.135 This is most notable in science. When evidence supports a hypothesis. the rationality that is applied to the organization of the production processes of capitalism is also applied to bureaucracy. political. and develops its knowledge from what is observed and experienced. But what are the nature of these laws.
What is specific to modern capitalism as distinct from the age old capitalist forms of acquisition is that the strictly rational organization of work on the basis of rational technology did not come into being anywhere within such irrationality constituted political systems nor could it had done so. formal rationality has come to underpin and determine all areas of social reality.. which come to operate independently of the social relations that have created them. For Lukács. Lowy. In other words Protestantism produced a kind of businessman. according to fixed general laws. Lukács saw Weber's concept of “rationalization” as perfectly complementary to a Marxian economic critique.175-6. from the economic. Lukács merged Weber's concept of formal rationality and quantification with Marxian categories of abstract labour and exchange value (commodity fetishism) in order to broaden social critique. In particular. Protestantism was able to do this not through the encouragement of unfettered free trade. and explain how the appearance forms of capitalism have become hypostatized. which necessitates the creation of laws which explain how everything works. Instead.subject. Lukács can be considered to be the first Marxist to fully utilize Weber's seemingly contradictory work 83. He quotes Weber at length in explaining how capitalism has “created a form for the state and a system of law corresponding to its needs and harmonizing with its own structure85”: The modern capitalist concern is based inwardly above all on calculation. Everything must be rational. It was the way that mattered. or even through the pursuit of wealth. at least in principle. the mode of production shaped ideology which in turn influenced values and attitudes. Historical materialists saw this simply as a process in the wrong order because values and attitudes did not shape the mode of production. The alienation of social and economic laws from their basis in social relations is the result of the relentless “tacit and trusted patten of reasoning” that is pervasive in modern capitalism. M (1996) “Figures of Weberian Marxism” in Theory and Society Vol. Individuals subsequently act in accordance with these laws. determinable and calculable. it encapsulated the reasoning and logic of capitalism and successfully applies these critiques to social institutions. “but by defining and sanctioning an ethic of everyday behaviour that conduced to business success”. a different kind of person. D (1999) The Wealth and Poverty of Nations at p. and riches were at best a by-product of this.3 p. It requires for its survival a system of justice and an administration whose workings can be rationally calculated. Lukács borrowed heavily from Max Weber in formulating this critique of formal rationality. For these modern businesses with their fixed capital and their exact calculations are much too 83 84 It was Weber who took historical materialism on in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which argued that Protestantism – more specifically its Calvinist branches – promoted the rise of modern capitalism. just as the probable performance of a machine can be calculated.. or 'reified'.94 85 34 . to the political and social.25 No. Lukács thus adopted these Weberian concepts as analytical tools in order to develop a deeper and more explanatory critique of capitalism and domination84. one who aimed to live and work in a certain way.432 Lukács. Landes.. G (1971) Supra at p. As stated before.
sensitive to legal and administrative irrationalities. at its core. characterizing and controlling all forms of social life: from the state to administration. proportions and relations of a rationalized existence with the aid of which every phenomenon – independently of its real and material distinctiveness – could be subjected to an exact calculus88 For Lukács. justice and law.129 35 .129 Lukàcs (1971) Supra at p.491 in Lukàcs. at its most characteristic. Lukács argues that: It is anything but mere chance that at the very beginning of the development of modern philosophy the ideal of knowledge took the form of universal mathematics: it was an attempt to establish a rational system of relations which comprehends the totality of the formal possibilities. where the judge's behaviour is on the whole predictable86 Lukács thus sees reification as seizing.96 Lukàcs (1971) Supra at p.. Further still. Lukàcs argues that this type of rationality necessarily leads to a contradiction: the contradiction of systems as created by us on the one hand. Weber's analogy for this type of formal rationality was '”an iron cage” because it is. and their fatalistic necessity (reified “second nature”) apart from us on the other. the judge is more or less an automatic statute dispensing machine in which you insert the files together with the necessary costs and dues at the top. They could only come into being in the bureaucratic state with its rational laws where. It is also crucial to understand the conceptual dominance of rationality in capitalist society: “What is novel about modern rationalism is its increasingly insistent claim that it has discovered the principle which connects up all phenomena which in nature and society are found to confront mankind87”. which are insufficient for social understanding because they act as epistemological limits (which will be expanded upon later). calculability and predictability can be reduced to their roots in mathematical reason. whereupon he will eject the judgment together with the more or less cogent reasons for it at the bottom: that is to say. this epitomizes the modern ideal of knowledge based upon rationality at its most uncompromising. With regard to the mathematical approach that underpins modern rationality. For Lukács. Lukács reduces this restrictive type of rationality to the principles of calculability and predictability. Lukács' use of Weber is important to note in order for us to understand his project of showing how modern life is driven and shaped by the capitalist logic of rationalism and rational calculation.. M Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Economy and Society) at p. and therefore. social inquiry has become molded and modeled around the principles of mathematics. The pervasiveness of formal rationality is thus based upon the perception that it is the paragon philosophical and scientific explanation. This is problematic for Lukàcs 86 87 88 Weber. a restrictive type of rationality. G (1971) Supra at p.
the principles of formal rationality (mathematical precision. This does not mean however. Lukàcs problematizes the approach to inquiry in terms of a universal reliance upon the principles of mathematics in all forms of inquiry. Lukàcs divides all forms of inquiry into two broad categories: 1. Inquiry that acknowledges that social reality is a product of human agency: that institutions. control and understand the systems around us is based upon the ontological presupposition of universal mathematical reason. scientists and theorists also seek to understand the underlying. In other words.129 Lukàcs (1971) Supra at p.. The result of this is that formal rational epistemology becomes ontology. the task here is to transcend the “givenness” of objects and grasp the “essence” beneath the layers of social construction. objects and social phenomena are created by us. come to operate independently. For Lukàcs. by the abstract combinations of these relations and proportions90”. The task here is to understand the true nature of these constructions beyond their appearance forms. our ontological understanding of the world is constituted by. we cannot fully understand the nature of social reality. we cannot dissolve the appearance forms of reality and discover the essence behind these forms because these appearances form the basis of inquiry. our ability to create. In other words.129 36 . In other words. What remains is a reality wholly understood and structured within the formal rational framework. over time. that current forms of understanding amount to nothing more than an identification of abstract laws that. the basis of our “control” of reality “can be nothing other than the certainty that only a reality cocooned by such concepts can truly be controlled by us 89”. 89 90 Lukàcs (1971) Supra at p. Lukàcs argues that “even if we suppose this universal mathematics to be entirely and consistently realized. Just as the classical economists sought to define the value of commodities in terms of some underlying common property. “control” of reality can be nothing more than the objectively correct contemplation of what is yielded. philosophers. constitutive processes of reality. Proceeding from this. and based upon. and secondly. With regards to the second approach (the fatalistic necessity of these systems). Lukàcs' point is that firstly. that all inquiry confines itself to dealing with the formal appearance forms of phenomena.. Lukàcs believes that. calculability and predictability) have come to preclude other types of theoretical analysis. the epistemological approach of formal rationality.because the aim (to discover the nature of the systems created by us) is made impossible by the means (starting all inquiry from the appearance forms of reified social reality). with regards to the first approach (systems created by us). In other words.
and reified forms. Thus the nature of formal rational thought is essentially tautological 91 This would exclude classical German philosophers such as Hegel. Lukàcs finds this level of inquiry in the works of the classical German school of philosophy. In terms of the second approach. an economist plotting capital flows between industries. all knowledge will be confined to the calculation of the autonomous workings of these reified systems. that in trying to discover the true nature of the world around us. Lukàcs argues that humans have come to understand the world in terms of the epistemology of formal rationality. if we start all inquiry from the “givenness” of reified forms. if we begin inquiry from the point of the “given” (that systems are hypostatized. Both necessarily become limited by their inability to penetrate beyond the immediacy. of things. Inquiry that does not question the social origin or nature of these objects. and its internal logic (because we project this epistemological approach onto all phenomena). These objects. If we look at the above two levels of inquiry. at first glance. and instead knowledge will be based upon how to deal with these systems. This is what Lukàcs calls “contemplative” inquiry which does not grasp the content of objects. in particular in the work of Kant91. facts or laws. For example. In other words. Inquiry will never penetrate beyond dealing with the results and by-products of the system's functions. I will show later however. because they both progress from the same formal rational presuppositions. and proceeds from their “given” existence. With regard to the first approach. ahistorical and natural). The second type of knowledge is based entirely upon the immediate forms of the reified systems. All inquiry proceeds from the presupposition that only a world explained within the framework of formal rational logic can uncover the concrete essence and inner workings of economic and social phenomena. and thus takes for granted how these systems came about. classical German philosophers such as Kant employed formal rational logic which restricted their thought to that of contemplation. or objectified appearance. facts and laws constitute the empirical and conceptual presuppositions of inquiry. and try to understand reality within the epistemological framework of formal rationality. 37 . we are bound to conclusions that verify both the foundations of that system (because we work and plan in and around its parameters). The importance of briefly demonstrating this is to establish the self-ratifying nature of formal rational thought. It thus contemplates objects without grasping their essence outside of the framework of formal rationality. at both levels of inquiry. it becomes clear that they are not separate types of inquiry. The only difference is their level of inquiry. Lukàcs argues that. who is considered to be a master dialectical thinker. a deeper level of inquiry that attempts to explain the nature of these systems. and instead gives an account of objects and their systemic functions. The first form of inquiry is.2.
Lukács sees the need to identify this bracketed form of rationality in order to explain the system that it governs. discovers the nature of the object in its structure and not in the process of its production. In other words. It is through the reflexive discovery of formal rationality in various works (for instance in the works of the social sciences) that we can understand the nature of the cultural pattern that influences and shapes our understanding of the world. The problem of bourgeois theory and thought is thus methodological: it cannot fully grasp reality because it is confined by its reified foundations. For Lukács. Formal rationality and the discovery of reality is thus a “closed system” that is methodologically incapable of discovering the true relationship between subject and object. confronted with reified reality. However. formal rationality is contemplative (i. In other words. From the above it is clear that Lukács work transforms Weber’s methodological bracketing of formal rationality into a radical cultural critique of reification94.76 38 . they are only correlative because their results refer back to the same pretheoretical laws which form the basis for the original inquiry. that certain domains (such as mathematics and some natural science) may only make use of formal rationality because these areas of inquiry lack a dialectic of subject and object. In other words. any epistemological claim made in the name of formal rationality is characteristic of capitalist thought patterns and must be subjected to reflexive critique. A (1981) Supra at p. the bourgeois social sciences demonstrate this methodological limitation by seeking to understand their objects through their rational structure.72 Feenberg. The model of mathematics cannot be used to describe or explain the social because it can never provide a sufficient explanation thereof: “Society however is constituted in the 92 93 94 Feenberg.e. For Lukács. not reflexive) because it is not dialectical. What arises from this preconditioned approach to inquiry is that different categories of inquiry yield results that are correlative. This mode of thought does not consider the dialectical relationship between us as subjects and our influence upon things as objects. Social science (amongst many other things) must thus be scrutinized in terms of its systemic function. Lukács holds however. humankind presupposes formal rationality as “the a priori of scientific explanation. According to Lukács. Reification is thus a limit to our understanding of the world because the individual. All reified inquiry thus cannot overcome a dualist position regarding the subject. A (1981) Supra at p. A (1981) Supra at p. and the world of objects outside of the subject. to which is correlated the a priori ontological structure of the world92”. in abstraction from the process of their becoming.because it consistently refers back to its own presuppositions and cannot progress beyond these. social scientists confront the products of collective human activity (reified laws) as though they are an objective reality independent of man93.104 Feenberg.
96 Lukács. G (1971) Supra at p. It requires for its survival a system of justice and an administration whose workings can be rationally calculated96”. G (1971) Supra at p. which is essentially a formalized system of laws that are capable of being generalized so as to relate to every possible situation in life. Marx argued that his discovery of the inner workings of capitalism would not dissolve these false appearance forms as long as the systems and processes of capitalism remain in tact. This is because the way that reality presents itself to the individual would not have changed. The individual in capitalist society experiences capitalism in all areas of life because the rationality of the capitalist production process has come to define and determine the way in which we think.95 39 . In other words.96-7 Lukács. G (1971) Supra at p. The same logic that pervades the economic and legal spheres applies to bureaucracy. rigid system. this is a clear manifestation of reification because the legal system confronts the individual events of social existence as a permanently established. this means that government and administrative structures have come to operate in the same way. objectified structure which results in “an 95 96 97 98 Feenberg. Reification. a superstructure has emerged which is a reflection of the productive system of capitalism itself. and according to the same principles. From this. For Lukács. For Lukács. Property relations.76 Lukács. reactionary institution that suppresses the revolutionary forces of society by simply accommodating for them and providing the grounds for their punishment97: “Thus capitalism has created a form for the state and a system of law corresponding to its needs and harmonizing with its own structure98”. Bureaucratic institutions in capitalism are based upon formalization and standardization (formal rationality) which has its roots in the production process.dialectic of subject and object and so can never fully be grasped by a formal rational logic95”. Law demonstrates this through constant attempts at attaining legal certainty. law is thus a change-resistant. labour relations and social norms are codified in the reflection of capitalist values. The individual's continued experience would be that of a capitalist social reality which is more pressing. The main consequence of this is that it hypostatizes the foundations of capitalist relations so that any transgression is penalized. it is an exercise in creating predictability and calculability. All human issues are subjected to a generalized. For Lukács. Lukács invokes the work of Weber when describing the similarity between system and state and makes specific reference to the social implications of this phenomenon: “The modern capitalist concern is based inwardly above all on calculation. and more believable. A (1981) Supra at p. as mass commodity producing businesses. Law and Bureaucracy In the first chapter I discussed how the appearance forms of capitalism persist despite a knowledge of their falseness. than Marx's complex theoretical account.
ever-increasing remoteness from the qualitative and material essence of the ‘things’ to which bureaucratic activity pertains99”. Bureaucracy thus becomes an overarching monolith that is based upon the logic of calculability and rationalization. This is undoubtedly a reformulation of Weber’s “iron cage of rationality” which arises out of the materials of specialization. The importance of this for Lukács is that the individual experiences capitalism in every area of life. Her thought becomes an expression of capitalist rationality which underpins the operation of social administrative structures and institutions. Lukács, in this sense, is intensifying the conditions of domination experienced by the individual in capitalist society in an attempt to explain why such conditions persist. Lukács argues that the capitalist logic of specialization, compartmentalization and rationalization “extends right into the worker’s ‘soul’100”. The subservience of humankind to reified laws, that extend from the logic of the production process, becomes the basis of all subsequent social patterning. In this sense, we can classify Lukács’ concept of reification as a form of “cultural critique” because it encompasses all areas of capitalist life – from the economic, to the social, to the bureaucratic. Lukács is therefore attempting to show how every aspect of our experience is a determination of capitalist rationality: capitalism has become culture. Society is subjected to a generalized patterning of all dimensions of society by a single form which has significant philosophical and practical repercussions. For Lukács, humankind acts according to certain socialized “laws” and “facts” that amount to a generalized form of social behavior that is passive and contemplative in nature. It is precisely this generalized “culture”, or collective social behavior, that constitutes the subject’s ontology101. The implication of this is that the individual does not see beyond her lived experience under capitalism (her ontology) – the capitalist social and productive system thus becomes “naturalized”, or “hypostatized”. It is precisely this “naturalization” that maintains the status quo and the domination of the underprivileged many by the privileged few. For Lukács, the subject, or worker, under capitalism is wrought with contradictions: reification has nurtured a passive, compliant subject that obeys and acknowledges social laws, but at the same time the subject feels the immiserating effects of this compliance:
[M]an in capitalist society confronts a reality made by himself (as a class) which appears to him to be a natural phenomenon alien to himself; he is wholly at the mercy of its ‘laws’, his activity is confined to the exploitation of the inexorable fulfillment of certain individual laws for his own (egoistic) interests. But even while ‘acting’ he remains, in the nature of the case, the object and not the subject of events. The field of his activity thus becomes wholly internalized: it consists on the
99 100 101
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one had of the awareness of the laws which he uses, and on the other, of his awareness of his inner reactions to the course taken by events102.
The agency ascribed to the subject under these circumstances is constrained and limited. So much so, that the appearance forms of capitalism come to be perceived as the only natural human condition. The freedom, or scope of action of the subject for Lukács “is neither able to overcome the sensuous necessity of the system of knowledge and the soullessness of the fatalistically conceived laws of nature, nor is it able to give them any meaning103”. Reification and Society By extending the logic and rationality of the capitalist system of production to the social, Lukács makes an important link between capitalism and human thought. Reification explains how the principles of capitalism have come to underpin all aspects of social, political and economic understanding. Social thought has thus become a part of the objective structure of social power. For Lukács, reification is the mechanism that has allowed capitalism to continue to exist despite all its inequalities; it is Lukács' contribution to social theory because it posits a potential answer for why the proletariat have come to accept their position in society. In the most crude sense, Lukács is identifying reification – an extension of economic fetishism – as the mechanism that is able to “shape the way in which the world is perceived 104”, and as a result, convince the dominated working class that this is the best situation they could possibly hope for. Up to this point, Lukács’ indictment of capitalism has take a similar path to that of Marx’s writings on alienation and commodity fetishism. The concept of commodity fetishism (the process of attributing powers to something which does not possess them) describes how alienated labour produces products which do not refer back to the labour that produced them. The goods subsequently appear on the market as values that are determined through their relationships with other commodities; meanwhile it is the amount of labour that has been required for their production that determines their values. It is this apparent self-regulation of autonomous commodities which constitutes fetishism because we are attributing a sense of agency to inanimate objects by thinking that they mediate with each other in order to determine their respective values. Lukács' theory of reification, on the other hand, is a broader concept which describes how humans construct and perceive the products of human action as independent “things”. Reification is a broader concept than fetishism because reification does not deal specifically with the products of human labour, i.e. commodities. Reification refers to the human construction of superstructural institutions, social laws and economic laws, to
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name a few. Most importantly however, reification refers to the way in which people think which results in the objectification and alienation of the products of their own agency. Extending this beyond the objectification, or fetishization of commodities, Lukács argues that capitalist productive and social circumstances have become hypostatized, meaning that the political economy of capitalism appears as the “natural given order of things”. By deriving sets of laws and facts from within the capitalist framework, (such as the laws of profit and loss, supply and demand etc) the exploitative system of production receives validation. In the same way that the commodity becomes autonomous and independent, the larger productive system and its functioning regularities become autonomous and independent. In other words, the way in which we construct and construe a commodity as a “thing” is extended to the way in which we view the capitalism as a “thing”, independent of human agency. The worker has, as was indicated above, become socialized within the socio-economic framework of capitalism and has simply orientated herself within its confines. This is however, a superficial explanation when attempting to solve the questions of proletarian passivity and oppression. In order to identify the reason for the reproduction of conditions of domination, we must look at the problem differently. Earlier I argued that Marx gives an insufficient account of why the appearance forms of capitalism remain, despite evidence that suggests otherwise. This results in the continued domination of the exploited majority (workers). Lukács picks up from where Marx left off by giving a more complex and in depth account of why the appearance forms that result in domination remain intact. For Lukács, domination remains intact because of the relationship between humans (subject) and external reality (object). In other words, it is the way in which we relate to the world that produces conditions of domination. The Subject-Object Relationship One of Lukács’ main contributions to radical capitalist critique is his linking of mental processes and reason with the proliferation of capitalism. For Lukács, domination and the reproduction of the appearance forms of capitalism can be explained in terms of the relationship between subject and object, which is directly related to the nature of thought in capitalist society. Lukács argues that thought is determined by the capitalist system of production, which results in certain limitations and contradictions in both thought and action. For Lukács philosophy is a reflection on the cultural structures of a given time. It was Lukács’ project to show exactly how reified thought had dominated the work of classical German philosophers such as Kant. For Lukács, the problems of philosophy can be extrapolated to social thought in general. In other words, what is
In order to substantiate this claim he looked at classical German philosophy. It establishes that some tacit and trusted pattern of reasoning must be made explicit and henceforward be avoided or revised. (1996) The Ways of the Paradox ch. Classical German philosophy for Lukács “is able to think the deepest and most fundamental problems of the development of bourgeois society through to the end – on the plane of philosophy… And – in thought – it is able to take all the paradoxes of its position to the point where the methodological necessity of going beyond this historical stage in mankind’s development can at least be seen as a problem106”. In other words. S (1994) The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy at p. that thought itself was a determination of a specific type of capitalist idiosyncratic logic. instead these structures were misinterpreted as eternal principles disconnected from the accidents of history and social life.90 Quine.91 Feenberg. its contradictions manifest themselves there with more clarity and rigor than elsewhere107.40 43 . Lukács argues that capitalism's conceptual heritage develops a specific type of thought that produces contradictions or paradoxes. G (1971) Supra at p. or antinomies. An antinomy literally means “conflict of laws”. what is wrong with philosophy can be used as an explanation for the continuation of conditions of domination in capitalist society. is wrong with thought itself Also. A (1981) Supra at p. W. the epistemology characteristic of capitalism (formal rationality). In History and Class Consciousness. For Lukács. at stake was the fate of reason itself. much more was at stake in the liberation from reification than a change in property relations. and had to prove. Lukács’ main problem lay in the classical tradition’s inability to separate and identify cultural structures as historically constructed. creates its own self-contradictions.88 Lukács.1 in Blackburn. or way of knowing the world around us. involves nothing less than a repudiation of part of our “taken for granted” conceptual heritage108. These contradictions. and is usually described as a contradiction or as a paradox. However.V. Quine says. are limits to knowledge because they effectively block the attainment of knowledge beyond these contradictions. Lukács argues that although bourgeois thought reaches its peak in classical German philosophy.wrong with philosophy. Quine has defined an antinomy as a paradox which produces a self-contradiction by accepted ways of reasoning. Such revision. Lukács’ project was an immense undertaking because of the nature of the problems that he attempted to tackle. The deconstruction of philosophy was particularly important for Lukács because he believed that philosophy was the primary indicator of cultural themes and presuppositions105. Lukács’ focus upon the history of philosophy is important for this work because it provides valuable insights into the pervasiveness of formal rationality in society. A (1981) Supra at p. Lukács uses the 105 106 107 108 Feenberg. Enlightenment was infinitely more problematic for Lukács because he saw.121 in Feenberg. A (1981) Supra at p.
. Lukács argues that it fixes them for eternity. In other words. to Hobbes. Reification and Philosophy Lukács saw his work in History and Class Consciousness as a solution to the problems that have plagued certain philosophers from the German classical school. However. and where it would begin if its formal rationality could allow it to do more than predict formal possibilities in terms of formal calculations109.134 The correct methodological approach that Lukács had in mind (that could overcome these philosophical antinomies) involved an extension of Hegelian dialectics coupled with the critique of reification based upon Marx’ commodity fetishism. The antinomies that Lukács makes explicit are “the split between subject and object. value and fact. Feenberg. rich in variations. for each of the discrete areas of inquiry and critique.term “antinomy” in this sense. the problem for the classical school lay in the rationality employed in trying to overcome these antinomies.. and prefers to conceive of it instead as its own product 111”. Lukács saw the aim of German philosophy. form and content. Lukács maintained that the principle function of reason was to overcome these contradictions. has been created by God) independently of the knowing subject. value and fact.111 111 44 . As has been argued before.g. Philosophy that relies upon formal rationality thus cannot succeed in resolving such antinomies. freedom and necessity. breaches the divide between philosophical speculation and practice which symbolizes the unification of object and subject. A (1981) Supra at p. the basic proposition that needs to be qualified is that rational knowledge is the product of the mind. Lukács clarifies the above statements by stating that “[f]rom systematic doubt and the Cogito ergo sum of Descartes. the reason that has been developed and molded by capitalism is incapable of solving these antinomies. It was Marxism that could provide the solution to the antinomies of classical bourgeois thought through its prescription of revolutionary change. form and content”. these goals were valid but their solution remained impossible because of the nature of thought and reason that the classical school employed. as an attempt to overcome these antinomies by unifying the concepts of subject and object. knowledge attained can only point to where the real synthesis should begin. freedom and necessity.90-91 Lukács. He briefly summarizes the problems facing the classical philosophy of his time as follows :“. for Lukács. modern philosophy sets itself the following problem: it refuses to accept the world as something that has arisen (or e. G (1971) Supra at p. from Hegel to Kant. is 109 110 Lukács. Spinoza and Leibniz there is a direct line of development whose central strand. which inevitably produce and reproduce the appearance forms of capitalist society (as well as the domination of the exploited many). Lukács argues that the problem is methodological because. Marxism. G (1971) Supra at p. For Lukács. On the contrary. therefore fixing conditions of domination at the same time110.
it has been created by ourselves112”. Lecture XV in Werke IV at p. For Lukács.the idea that the object of cognition can be known by us for the reason that. formal rational thought. G (1971) Supra at p. which simply took the rationality of the universe as a given without considering the influence of the subject. making change in thought. and change in material reality all but impossible. Kant still attempted to overcome the contradiction of 112 113 114 Lukács. antecedent to all experience 114” and thus cannot be known. Lukács argues that the notion of the thing-in-itself is a recognition of the insurmountable opposition of form and content for a formalistic concept of reason.166 Lukács. universal rationalism has attempted to systematize the world which requires a knowledge of these objects. there is therefore. This common position. G (1971) Supra at p. and the inability to solve philosophical. [Fichte] says. Lukács argues that the concept of the thing-in-itself results in a contradiction in thought. and to the degree in which. by sketching the connection between these fundamental problems of classical philosophy and the material circumstances (the objective reified world) from which they arise.288 in Lukács. a direct link between the philosophical approach that humans have towards the world. The methods of mathematics and geometry subsequently provide the means whereby objects are constructed and created out of the formal presuppositions of objectivity in general. which is essentially an unknowable object that exists outisde of human consciousness. but eventually failed because of his use of the concept of the “thing-in-itself”. the work of Kant is enormously important because of its advance over earlier rationalism. Ibid at p. Lukács quotes Fichte in posing the crux of this problem: “What is at issue. the knowledge and answers that the classical school sought were elusive because of the nature of rationality characteristic of the philosophy (and all other thought). With specific regard to Kant's work. On the other hand. G (1971) Supra at p.112 Fichte (1804)Die Wissenschaftslehre of 1804.115 45 . Lukács' immediate task is to explain why the antinomies of philosophical thought could not be resolved. as well as practical problems. For Lukács. actively reifies the structures of capitalism. characterized by limiting. this approach comes to constitute our knowledge of the world as a totality. the extra-mental object “is a datum in itself. Lukács states the mathematical approach to these philosophical questions begins here.112 (my emphasis) Following this point. This is because on the one hand. Lukács argued that Kant had come to the verge of discovering dialectics. is the absolute projection of an object of the origin of which no account can be given with the result that the space between projection and thing projected is dark and void113”. Despite admitting that the division between subject and object was insurmountable. despite this. Most importantly however. In other words they are derived from the immediate forms. As I have argued earlier in my exposition of formal rationalism. this philosophical approach to the world reflects a common mode of thought that capitalism has developed which limits the way in which humans perceive the world around them. For Lukács.
The whole. whilst recognizing the unknown character of noumena. the unified subject that takes the form of the proletariat can only bring about a concrete change in society. Marx sees the historical process as proceeding through a necessary series of modes of production. being a follower of Marx. J (2003) Karl Marx at http://plato. Where Kant turns to God. and a dissolution of the appearance forms of capitalism. or “whole” and its importance for class consciousness.110 Lukács.. Kant's concept of God. culminating in communism117”. Very briefly. The process is methodologically similar to Hegel's Philosophy of History and Phenomenology of Spirit. or the soul. they tried to construct a rational system out of a world that they all agreed was fundamentally irrational and unknowable: “The greatness. or totality. The whole. So. the paradox and the tragedy of classical German philosophy lie in that fact that. In other words. For Lukács however. or the soul.. while grasping and holding on to the irrational character of the actual contents of the concepts it strives to go beyond this. Hegel saw history as a process that culminated in the realization of “absolute knowledge” and freedom 115 116 117 Feenberg.edu/entries/marx/ 46 . G (1971) Supra at p. In light of these contradictions between subject and object.subject and object using a formal rational methodology115. appearance and essence. this dismissal of the “totality” of knowledge is wrong because a similar concept of the “totality” is central to Kant's transcendental dialectic. The category of “totality” did not feature in any of Kant's writings because of his explicit denial that the “totality” could ever be truly grasped or understood. Lukács turns to the unified subject. In these works. “historical materialism — Marx's theory of history — is centered around the idea that forms of society rise and fall as they further and then impede the development of human productive power.stanford.117 Wolff. Based on these economic principles. Lukács develops his theory of the “whole” or “totality” which aims to explain how these contradictions can be transcended. A (1981) Supra at p. For Lukács however. arguing that the former are nothing but mythological expressions of the latter. Lukács develops a theory of history that tries to give a more intricate account of the development of proletarian consciousness (utlizing many of Hegel's concepts on the way). Kant and the German classical school strove to go beyond this by erecting a rational system of noumenal “things-in-themselves”. for Lukács. is a crucial part of Lukács' chapter on “Reification and the Class Consiousness of the Proletariat”. I will now turn to explain the category of “the totality”. or knowledge: all history is a dialectical process leading to to the realization of this state. to overcome it and to erect a system116”. postulates the same core qualitative subject that is capable of transcending the subject-object divide. Lukács' intention is to explain why historical materialism has not yet caused the downfall of capitalism. In other words. The “whole” is essentially a meta-theory that informs the process of history that is based upon the tenets of historical materialism as Marx laid them out. is a practical state of consciousness.
“absolute knowledge” would prevail. “categories” or “systems” which have the apparent form of independence and autonomy. appearance form is dialectically transcended only if they become synthesized. each epoch. and an extra-mental reality of unknowable objects.188 Feenberg. or even each event. or situated within the context of historical development towards a totality or whole120. Thomas. do not adopt an idealist stance as Hegel did118.through the dialectical negation of a series of inferior states. But how does the division between subject and object manifest itself in society? For Lukács. bourgeois society. This epistemological limit to knowledge stems from a problematic philosophical relationship with the world. we must still carry out this transformation through actual material activity. In other words. Marx and Lukács however. This means that knowledge is not seen within the context of history and the dialectical transition towards a Marxist state of affairs. K (ed) et al (1997) Supra at p. Lukács employs the term “ultimate knowledge” (that is brought about by an understanding of the whole) in a Hegelian sense. Hegel believed that all reality is constituted by mind. This segmented. has fragmented knowledge into “parts”. laying bare its social foundations. In other words. the division of reality into reality as experienced by the subject. To gain absolute knowledge we do not have to know all the facts that one could ever possibly know. beyond its reified appearance forms. These terms are employed as a way of understanding the world as it really is. To see something in its proper context is thus to strip it of its appearances. is a development within the dialectical process of history that will culminate in systemic change. does not mean knowledge of everything. which is characterized by the division between subject and object (demonstrated by the “thingin-itself”). a 118 119 120 As I will explain in further detail later on. In other words. For Lukács however. 47 . limits our ability to see that objects are influenced by human agency. which is ultimately purely mental.81-2 This refers directly to the whole as the movement of history based upon historical materialism. is a knowledge of the course of history which translates into a knowledge of reality. Both theorists aim instead to show how real knowledge is possible119. our consciousness must be a form of praxis that changes the material world. for Lukács. This genuine knowledge also allows us to see how each event furthers the teleology of historical materialism. which will be the focus of the subsequent section on dialectics. reification is an epistemological limit which does not allow for a proper conception of the whole as explained above. based on formal rationality. or “totality”. It is important to note that Hegel's “absolute knowledge” and Lukács' “knowledge of the whole”. A (1981) Supra at p. The whole. Extramental objects are knowable if they are understood in a new way. The mind thus imposes categories and reality and constructs reality. not an understanding of everything. In other words. a knowledge of the whole is a knowledge of the true means to understanding. or categorized. in contrast to knowledge of mere appearances. Hegel wrote that when the dialectic of mind had reached fruition. and instead believe that while us humans have the ability to transform the world around ourselves (through ideas and consciousness).
The apearance forms of capitalism. has always adopted a contemplative stance towards the world which aimed at deducing things and concepts from their forms. and is not seen as a specific type of production but as a natural type of production. in the past. Lukács proposes a shift from philosophy as “pure theory” to the conception of philosophy as a form of practice. and capable of. Lukács believes that formal rationality limits our understanding of the relationship between human agency and history. Most importantly however. specialization. the task is to deduce the unity – which is not given – of this disintegrating creation and to prove that it is the product of a creating subject. For clarification's sake however. because its logic is pervasive to all forms of production. For Lukács. or enterprise. and why it is still bound to happen. The role of the parts in this regard is to fragment the whole because it obscures the realization that the commodity mode of production as a system has come to determine all aspects of life in capitalist society. “the whole” in this sense is a system that determines and gives shape to its parts but also relies on these parts for its continued existence. Each part is thus unable to see the image of the totality because it is immersed in developing skills and knowledge that necessarily diverge from. therefore hide the whole and limit our understanding of the real relations that constitute social reality. How are we to go about discovering the relationship of humankind with the world? In other words.157 48 . self governing community of associated producers). There is thus a whole at work here in that each part is an instantiation of the logic of commodity production. that shatters the historical context of the capitalist mode of production in the first place. and what must be done so that humankind can discover the totality? Lukács maintains that philosophy. and the historical movement towards “the whole” (a rational. the structure of commodity production gives determination and shape to each particular “part”. but managed.qualitative shift away from capitalism. This is what Lukács calls the development of “a formally closed system of partial laws” 121. we must return to the category of “totality” in order to understand how these events should transpire. In order to transcend the core duality of subject and object. It is capitalism’s obsession with efficiency. the whole. For Lukács.. action. and more importantly. S (1993) Supra at p. Based upon this “natural” conception of the capitalist mode of production. and destroy. The nature of the system is thus not interrogated. what must be done in order to transcend the appearance forms of reified capitalism. This involves the discovery of a practical subject which is integrated with. producing its object: “. determined and fragmented by formal rationality. inquiry and knowledge. In 121 Perkins. It is Lukács' intention to show how this shift comes about. inquiry and knowledge are aimed towards creating separated fragments (systems) that appear autonomous and independent of one another.
123 123 49 . Instead.123 124 Lukàcs (1971) Supra at p. as well as the nature of the subject's relationship with the extra-mental world. This insight. put into the context of Lukàcs' philosophical project (of bridging the gap between the subject and object). one that is capable of transforming and influencing the world around her.140 Lukàcs (1971) Supra at p. In other words. Kant's turn to “practical solutions” was a movement in the right direction. At this point we can see Lukàcs' intention: if we can discover a type of action that presupposes a unity of subject and object. who adopted the concept of the practical. the objectification and the autonomy of the objects around us will dissolve because both categories become 122 Lukács. Lukàcs however. provides the starting point for the transcendence of the forms of reification. The Principle of Practice Kant's work in his Critique of Practical Reason was an attempt to show that the barriers of thought (the epistemological limits of the “thing-in-itself”) could not be overcome by theory (contemplation). Kant's insights were thoroughly successful in identifying the limits of thought. and attempted to use it as the center of a unifying philosophy.the final analysis then: to create the subject of the “creator”122. This task however. which is essentially a manipulation of earlier philosophies of “deed” or “action”. and his explanation of exactly how this takes place. the importance of Fichte's insight is that if “[philosophy] begins from action it will stand at the point where the two worlds meet and from which they can both be seen at a glance124”. but were “amenable to practical solutions123. and again it becomes apparent that Kant seems to be on the verge of solving the antinomies of bourgeois thought. Lukàcs made it his task to discover the true “practical subject”.” For Lukàcs. argues that Kant's work does not bridge the gap between the acting subject. and at this point the solution seems to be at hand with the implementation of a theory of practice or action. I will now turn to one of the key elements in Lukács' work: the “principle of practice”. deed is a type of activity which presupposes no object. can only proceed after a proper explanation of “the principle of practice”. deed creates the object itself in its actions. G (1971) Supra at p. and the external object. then perhaps we can transcend the rigid forms of reification because our actions will have an impact on the objects around us. Following his critique of Kant's principle of practice. the deed. as well as Marxist philosophy. For Lukàcs. because of the nature of the subject that Kant posits. or a knowledge of the “whole” (discovered in history). Lukàcs bases his concept of the principle of practice on the work of Fichte. For Fichte. It is how Lukács pieces this together with dialectics. that distinguishes his work from other pieces of classical German philosophy.
requires an understanding of objects as they exist as products of human action. the appearance forms take on independent metaphysical qualities (for instance the seemingly autonomous value of fetishized commodities) which hide the qualitative characteristics and relationships that exist between people. This is the dialectical approach which argues that a synthesis results from the interaction of two polar opposites. Humans understand the world according to the principles of formal rationality which subsequently reproduces the appearance forms of capitalism. as well as Lukàcs. For Lukàcs. Fichte's extension of Kant's “deed” needed to be reconceptualized in such a way that it tailors itself “to the concrete material substratum of action if it is to impinge upon it to any effect 127”. in a dialectical manner. the subject is capable of creating and manipulating the object world around her. the subject is also influenced by the material world of objects. as well as between people and the objects around them. For instance. and in order for this to happen. In order for this to happen. or praxis. In other words. means the persistence of conditions of exploitation and domination. and the objects of that conception. the subject must perceive the world around her in a specific manner: namely. only truly reaches fruition if the essence of praxis consists in annulling the indifference of form towards content that characterized the thing-in-itself. By construing 125 To clarify further. The object-world in late capitalism can be said to have a significant amount of influence over the subject. It is only through perceiving this situation as a dialectic that the subject can resume her position at the opposite pole of influence. A unity of thought. The formal conception of appearance forms is thus divorced from their true nature (the material substratum). a synthesis between subject and object is proposed by the notion of the acting subject who creates the world around her. the fetishism of commodities and their subsequent autonomous selfregulation on the market are clear examples of how objects have come to influence and shape our world. but is capable of influencing and manipulating them because she is part of the dialectical relationship125. or conception. ease or difficulty of creation or manipulation etc). For Lukàcs. reification blocks thought and knowledge that could lead to a realization of humankind's dialectical relationship with the external world. action. The persistence of the appearance forms for Marx. and our behaviour as subjects. but the object world also influences the subject by determining (among other things) the material constraints of action (for example resources. thought needs to become a specific type of action that influences the objects around it. What Lukàcs is implying here is that reified. At the same time. it is a merging of these two levels (concepts and things) into one that makes their mutual influence apparent. Reification and fetishism thus obscure the subjects conception of her role as influencer of reality. In this case. 126 Lukàcs (1971) Supra at p.126 127 Lukàcs (1971) Supra at p. thought and things need to unite under the meta-theory of dialectical reasoning. For Lukàcs.mutually constitutive – subjects create and define objects whilst objects in turn influence the subject. formal rational thought bases itself upon appearance forms only. and contributor to the dialectal interplay between subject and object. For Lukàcs.126 50 . The core of this unity between thought and things is a conception of form “whose basis and validity no longer rest on that pure rationality and that freedom from every definition of content 126”.
What provides the initial insight into the the essence of things that lie beneath the appearance forms of capitalism? Lukàcs' task therefore. In order for this to happen however. she engages with the world around her based upon the objectified appearance forms of these objects and systems. she does not see her relationship with these objectified objects and systems. The Object as Worker and the Worker as Object The subject-object divide has already been shown to be the most problematic antinomy for philosophy to overcome. the subject who is capable of discovering the true nature of agency and henceforth. the subject becomes trapped within boundaries of objectification. a very specific subject. without ever questioning or grasping their true content – their essence behind these appearance forms: “Bourgeois thought entered into an unmediated relationship with reality as it was given128”.objects as “things”. the world around her because she presupposes the appearance forms of the objects and systems that confront her. and thus relates to them contemplatively. The reified nature of the appearance forms of capitalism. the temporal nature of capitalism. As I have stated. The first question that arises at this point. this form of unified action. and secondly. The implication of this is that unfettered forms of praxis are simply not possible if praxis stems from an understanding and knowledge of the appearance forms only. The situation however. the capitalist system in which we find ourselves appears to be impervious to action because of the autonomy and rigidity of the reality that confronts us. The subject does not politically control. focusing initially upon how an awareness of the falsehood of appearance forms comes about. consisted of finding a philosophical grounding for the “principle of practice”. G (1971) Supra at p. In other words. First and foremost. or influence. outside of human control. upon the subject of this consciousness and the impact of the unified subject-object upon the world. must be identified.156 51 . can be dissolved by an understanding of dialectics. as well as finding the subject who is in the right material position to realize. which results in false consciousness. is how knowledge of humankind's dialectical relationship with the world comes about. she works within and around these objectified forms (as I have explained earlier) and simply positions herself so as to gain the most benefit. living under very specific material conditions. Lukács thought it entirely possible to transcend this philosophical problem by conceptualizing and finding in reality “the creating subject”. The chapter from this point on will focus upon Lukàcs' responses to the questions posed above. and carry out. the subject must be capable of perceiving and 128 Lukács. is not insurmountable for Lukàcs.
the subject must be able to see the quantification of all things. and the characteristic that sets her apart from all the other commodities in circulation is that she is a conscious commodity capable of reflexivity. It is important to note here that the worker as a human-being is not a commodity akin to all others. Lukács' proposition is that a consciousness of the above phenomena becomes possible because of the unique position that the labourer inhabits: namely the subject as object. As Marx has argued. But because of the split between subjectivity and objectivity induced in man by the compulsion to 129 130 131 Lukács.166 Lukács.167 52 . G (1971) Supra at p. at the level of the labourer.166 Lukács. the system of capitalism forces the worker into “becoming the object of the process by which [s]he is turned into a commodity and reduced to a mere quantity129”. complete and able to function without him and in which he is no more than a cipher reduced to an abstract quantity. The unique situation of the worker however. this precise subject can be found at the very base of the capitalist productive process. and which cuts him off from his labour-power. The worker is thus a fusion of a conscious human being (subject) and a quantifiable commodity (object). She must see the pervasive calculability and predictability of all the objectified products that emerge from the productive process. And by selling this. She must also be able to perceive the historical “whole” of the capitalist process beyond its immediate appearance forms. the commodity of labour-power is inseparable from physical existence. it is labour-power that is the commodity that the worker is forced to sell. For Lukács. forcing him to sell it on the market as a commodity belonging to him. G (1971) Supra at p.understanding the objectification of things. a mechanized and rationalized tool130 On the one hand. by the fact that the worker is forced to objectify his labour-power over against his total personality and to sell it as a commodity. For Lukács however. It is precisely this very fact that forces the worker to surpass the immediacy of her condition: The quantification of objects. For Lukács. G (1971) Supra at p. he integrates it (and himself: for his commodity is inseparable from his physical existence) into a specialized process that has been rationalized and mechanised. It is true that the worker is objectively transformed into a mere object of the process of production by the methods of capitalist production…i.e. or the objectified subject. in his social existence the worker is immediately placed wholly on the side of the object: he appears to himself immediately as an object and not as the active part of the process of labour131. In other words. a process that he discovers already existing. their subordination to abstract mental categories makes its appearance in the life of the worker immediately as a process of abstraction of which he is the victim. his only commodity.
the quantification of labour-power in terms of labour-time (the objective appearance form of the commodity of labour-power) becomes the determining form of the worker's existence. which is based upon Marx's writings involving the subordination of all use-values to the category of exchange-value. abstracted from the worker. G (1971) Supra at p. she is determined wholly by her quantifiable. the situation becomes one that can be made conscious132. or objectification. it is labour-time that reveals the quantification of the qualitative nature of labour-power and provides the initial insight into the worker's objectified condition133. For Lukács.167-8 (my emphasis) Lukács.176 53 . the worker is in a unique situation in which to identify this pervasive transformation of the qualitative into the quantitative. It is this objectified labour. The worker is in a unique position to become conscious of this transformation. qualitative categories of his whole physical. because exploitation appears to the capitalist as the simple manipulation and use of a commodity that she has purchased. mental and moral existence 134”. The situation of the worker is unique because of this knowledge of reification. as an objectified 132 133 134 135 Lukács. these same differences in exploitation must appear to the worker as “the decisive. as opposed to the capitalist. Labour-power becomes the quantitative determinant that represents and characterizes the worker. in this rationalization and reification of all social forms that we see clearly for the first time how society is constructed from the relations of men with each other135”.166 Lukács.167 Lukács. In the above quotations it is clear that the worker (for the capitalist) is an instrumental object akin to every other object that constitutes the forces of production. To the worker however. “at its zenith”. this system of production – based on alienated labour – involves the constant transformation of the qualitative into the quantitative. For Lukács. For Lukács. the appearance forms of capitalism are thus capable of being dissolved by the worker arriving at a knowledge of her own objectification: “It is just in this objectification. The differences in exploitation thus appear in the form of quantitative determinants of the objects of her calculation.objectify himself as a commodity. G (1971) Supra at p. G (1971) Supra at p. calculate and predict the productive process. objectified role within the productive process. that allows the capitalist to plan. One of the core characteristics of the worker. G (1971) Supra at p. The worker thus appears to the capitalist as a quantitative object – an element involved in a process of calculation. The worker's qualitative attributes have thus been entirely transformed into quantitative categories through the objectification of the worker's labour-power which is inseparable from the worker as a human. For Lukács. In other words.
Up to this point. For Lukács. It is thus the worker's awareness of her qualitative value that leads to a general awareness of her qualitative core. on the basis of its life-experience. as I have argued in the previous chapter. G (1971) Supra at p. entering into the evolution of society136”. and stands remote from both. “the we whose action is in fact history138”.commodity. is thus reserved for the class which is able to discover within itself. The worker in this position has no link to humanity or nature. Above all. It is in this position that she is able to see the objectification. and arises spontaneously and collectively out of the dialectical process of history. is her social relation to other workers through the productive process. and reification. of Lukács. the proletariat. The discovery of the dialectic. not an imputed consciousness. For Lukács. At the same time. However. this knowledge. the self-revelation of the capitalist society founded upon the production and exchange of commodities137. this is an awareness of the inner workings of capitalism. this situation provides the very seeds of transcendence and emancipation. the transformation of labour into a commodity removes every human element from the immediate existence of the proletariat. of all the humanly constructed social forms. The situation that the worker finds herself in is thus one of exploitation and misery. the fetishization and objectification that follows from the capitalist production process necessarily hides these relations. as well as the qualitative relations that exist between fellow workers and the products of their labour. the subject of action. or consciousness. G (1971) Supra at p. the worker can only become conscious of his existence in society when he becomes aware of himself as a commodity… his consciousness is the self consciousness of the commodity. which allows for a true understanding of humankind's relationship with social reality. For Lukács however. Lukács believes that every direct link between nature and the forms of society is eliminated. G (1971) Supra at p. capitalism hides the qualitative core of humankind under the appearance forms of social reality. the process of becoming conscious of one's own objectification – the revealing of the qualitative core – makes it possible to recognize the fetishized character of every commodity that is based on labour power: “in every case we find its core. but at the same time. which arises from the worker's self-knowledge of her own objectification. beneath the appearance forms. Lukács has shown how the exploitative core of capitalism is revealed through the subject discovering her unique objectified status.169 Lukács.145 and 149 137 136 54 . For the worker. the identical subject-object. or in other words it is the self-knowledge.168 138 Lukács. It is therefore. the relation between men.
The reason that this knowledge does not translate into automatic change is that the worker has not reached a stage where “thought becomes practice”. because it views these categories as mutually constitutive140. the subject (conscious of reification and exploitation) must first look to history. On the contrary.322 345 in Lukács. In other words. and the subject that perceives those things. which proves to be a decisive break with the reified. Dialectics does not treat subject and object. Here Lukács turns to Hegel and the dialectical approach. constituting the reformulation of our whole ontological basis. The focus of the chapter from this point will be to demonstrate exactly how this knowledge of exploitation. hypostatized subject-object relations that characterized earlier philosophical works. for it is in history that the true nature of the dialectic is discovered. In order for this to happen however. eternal laws of nature. G (1971) Supra at p.48 Marx. Secondly. namely that “people fail to realize that these definite social relations are just as much the products of men as linen. Firstly. as separate ontological categories. men become estranged from this. we are required to change our entire relationship with the reality we face. as formal rationality does. or the ‘concrete material substratum of things’ (essence).48 55 . and an external world of impenetrable objects. G (1971) Supra at p. Lukács argues that reification has resulted in the transformation of history into the “irrational rule 139 140 141 142 Lukács. It is this ‘antinomy’ that leads Kant to “the thing in itself” which posits an object that is explained Lukács. thought and things. namely the rigid opposition of subject and object. the subject-object divide is still very much in tact. flax etc 142”. Lukács bases this upon Marx's argument concerning fetishism. But for the dialectic (which influences and informs the entire historical trajectory of mankind) to become apparent. Dialectics is thus an attempt to reconstruct subject-object relations at a different level.reification is insufficient for overcoming the antinomies that characterize bourgeois society: “this does not mean that immediacy together with its consequences for theory. Dialectics and the Theory of History For Lukács. Kant and his fellow classical philosophers could not breach this divide which led to a reality that consisted of two ontological levels: the world as the subject knows it (form). with regard to the origin of social institutions: “The objects of history appear as the objects of immutable. K Supra at p.167 Formal rationality adopts a contemplative stance towards an external world of things. the true source of historical understanding and cut off from it by an unbridgeable gulf141”. History becomes fossilized in a formalism incapable of comprehending that the real nature of socio-historical institutions is that they consist of relations between men. the subject still approaches a reality that is separated from her actions. objectification and reification can be translated into a practical project for social change. can be regarded as having been wholly overcome139”. There is thus a distinction between things. G (1971) Supra at p. reification has obscured and destroyed the true nature of the historical process in two ways.
form and content in a totality146”. is to be attained. instead of being fully understood. It is the real. by stating that history is the process of “the subject in constant qualitative transformation through the interaction of subject and object.of blind forces143”. Lukács states that history as a totality (universal history): is neither the mechanical aggregate of individual historical events. this conception of history allows us to see the “genesis” of the object by the subject. Lukács argues that Hegel treats history as reality. Lukács believed that a proper comprehension of history is the solution to the problems posited above: “For in the case of almost every insoluble problem we perceive that the search for a solution leads us to history144”. Lukács argues “that if genesis.144 Feenberg. Lukács' Theory of History With specific regard to the nature of history. a Lukácsian concept of history proves that humankind is capable of self-producing activity. Humans thus possess the ability to influence and change the world around them. in the sense given to it in classical philosophy. nor is it a transcendent heuristic principle opposed to the events of history. in the uninterrupted outpouring of what is qualitatively new that the requisite paradigmatic order can be found in the realm of things145”. For Lukács.. For Lukács. It is only in history. 143 144 145 146 Lukács. The totality of history is itself a real historical power – even though one that has not hitherto become conscious and has therefore gone unrecognized – a power which is not to be separated from the reality (and hence the knowledge) of the individual facts without at the same time annulling their reality and their factual existence. Under these conditions. His task is thus to explain how historical evolution annuls the autonomy of the individual factors that fragment the perception of the whole. G (1971) Supra at p. history can only be described pragmatically. In other words. G (1971) Supra at p. A (1981) Supra at p. G (1971) Supra at p.48-49 Lukács. ultimate ground of their reality and their factual existence and hence also their knowability even as individual facts. it is necessary to create a basis for it in a logic of contents which change. the process of history itself is a solution because it provides the foundation for the implementation of dialectical thought (as well as proof of it).14 Lukács. Hegel provided the impetus for Lukács in this regard.118 (my emphasis) 56 .. in the historical process.
ultimate knowledge is the realization of a method of viewing reality that allows us to see beyond appearances (as opposed to a conception of ultimate knowledge as a complete knowledge of every conceivable thing in the universe).Individual events are thus stripped of their true meaning if they are not viewed in the context of history as a process of change. is stripped of its objectified. the “totality” remains conceptually intact. this does not amount to the negation or superfluousness of the dialectic of history. This is what Lukács is referring to in the above passage when he speaks of the totality of history as a “power”.170 Again. inherent nature of things to be revealed. autonomous appearance.175 Lukács. the “totality” has become fragmented. As I have explained earlier however. For Lukács. This “ultimate knowledge” results in the realization of an emancipated society. this means that the external object. alienation and reification. in both content and consciousness. Lukács does not use the term 'ultimate knowledge' exactly the same way that Hegel did. yet preserve an aspiration towards the totality. its contradictions are fully revealed in the objects of its day-today actions. or an instance that. Instead. objectification. Society only obtains “ultimate knowledge” once the antinomies that plagued capitalist society have been dissolved149. In either case however. For Lukács. whether that deed is conscious of the “totality” or not. in order for the immanent. The category of totality begins to have an effect long before the whole multiplicity of objects can be illuminated by it. For Lukács. or thing-in-itself.. G (1971) Supra at p.147 The implication of this is that the difference between any two deeds is the levels of consciousness that inform those deeds. as I have explained earlier. the dialectic of history remains the overarching force that shapes deed. Long before men become conscious of the decline of a particular economic system and the social and juridical forms associated with it. It is important to emphasize that the dialectic is a constant influence throughout history. through inference. It does thus not refer to any type of experience of God. Lukács seems to be arguing. It operates by ensuing that action which seems to confine themselves to particular objects. 147 148 149 Lukács. All that is required is for the right subject to become aware of it. 57 . or the realization that all reality is determined by mind. free from exploitation. that is to say: action is directed objectively towards a transformation of totality. G (1971) Supra at p. It is precisely this power that shapes history in the direction of Marxism. This is what Lukács calls the “unconscious dialectic”. displays the social nature of the objects around us. The dialectical relationship that has now been discovered between subject and object allows an understanding of the object “in its genesis”. a design to the process of history which must inform every single instance and aspect of human deed. resulting in the stagnation and ossification of the capitalist mode of production (reification). if unraveled. every aspect in history must be seen “as a point of transition to the totality148”.
instead of confronting humankind as reified “things” (for instance the market now becomes controlled by humankind instead of vice versa). This proactive subjectivity. we are able to see the true relationship between the human as the constructor of the object. The exact extent to which this happens is only partly explained. instead of the other way round. or “the object-by-us”. and where Hegel failed to find a subject capable of changing the real world. For Lukács. “ultimate knowledge” is possible if we realize the extent of our subjectivity and influence upon the world around us. objects are in a state of flux. It is Lukács' project to develop an understanding of the material world in terms of human agency and its influence upon the material world. History seen in this manner provides proof of our ability to influence the world around us: “The idea that we have made reality loses its more or less fictitious character: we have – the prophetic words of Vico already cited – made our own history and if 150 This contribution however is problematic. 58 . For Lukács. and the material side of the dualist approach is dominant. There are thus physical limitations and influences that the object world imposes upon us. we can assume first of all that influences pertain to the physical properties of things. for instance a boulder in my path influences the direction I take. Historical evolution annuls the autonomy of the individual factors which owe their autonomy to the productive process and formal rationality. This also necessarily entails the influence of the physical world of objects upon the human being. The problem in capitalist society is that the dialectical approach has not yet been discovered. Lukács tells us that genuine. and the nature of the object. their content and their meaning for us as humans can be understood and altered. Dialectics therefore. understood within the context of the telos (design) of history. then we are also capable of manipulating them and changing them. and although they represent something physically external to us. This is where Lukács feels that his contribution lies150. Lukács also tells us of how the object world influences our consciousness when he speaks of reification. In other words. It is this dialectical relationship with the previously separate object world that allows us to hesitantly identify Lukács as a dualist. or agency. and is discussed in the concluding section of this chapter. identifies a realm of material objects that is capable of influencing us. Based upon the insights of the identical subject-object (the worker). What this means is that the object world (the way it appears to humans) dominates human behaviour. The same applies to the objectified nature of institutions and systems. Where Kant failed to conceive of a way to truly grasp the extra-mental world. However. grants humankind the ability to practically influence change in the direction of emancipation. reality and the objects around us become extensions of our deeds and thoughts. What appears beneath this is “the object-for-us”. and the ideological mechanisms that allow fetishized objects to rule over us. the historical context truly eliminates the actual autonomy of the objects and the concepts of objects in their apparent rigidity. If we are capable of seeing our role in the construction of the objects around us.because the subject is capable of seeing her dialectical relationship to it.
the worker as subject and object has transcended the epistemological limits of reified thought. we shall have raised ourselves in fact to the position from which reality can be understood as our ‘action’151”. In other words.128 and 130 59 .152 (my emphasis) Perkins. For Lukács. the becoming of the human species is the privileged domain within which the problems of the theory of being can finally be resolved152. her understanding of the world. She has also transcended the ontological limits of formal rational thought by perceiving objects. and its functioning. Then it can be shown that such philosophical antinomies as that of subject and object. G (1971) Supra at p. but at the same time the actual content of the individual phenomenon is changed fundamentally153. The result of this is a change in the objective appearance forms that have become pervasive in capitalism. she has grasped the true content of objects as products of the relations between humans. in situating and understanding objects and events in the context of the category of totality. has changed and has become aligned with the objective process of history.e. Such transcending action takes on a universal significance. 151 152 153 154 Lukács. when we view history as a dialectical process that portends towards “the totality”. or the “totality”. we are effectively dissolving the hypostatized appearance forms of reified capitalism. it can mutatis mutandis conceive of human action as pertinent to being. history is ontology. So. A (1981) Supra at p. Lukács has been able to successfully demonstrate the dialectical foundation of previously contradictory categories. It is at this point that Lukács' philosophy of practice can take effect: Because the philosophy of praxis conceives of being as history and history as the product of human action. we become capable of grasping the immanent nature of the material substratum beneath the appearance forms. G (1971) Supra at p. The current human position is thus temporal and not “the best that the worker can hope for” 154.7-8 Lukács. going beyond the merely human world to affect being as such. By identifying the historically specific conditions of capitalism the worker grasps the world on a new ontological level. S (1993) Supra at p. for there is no other). For philosophy of praxis. the integration of any specific event into the category of totality does not merely affect our judgment of the individual phenomena decisively. by looking at history in this way.145 Feenberg. By deriving the dialectic from her insights into history. institutions and systems as products of human relations. History has shown that thought can become practice because human beings do influence the world. as well finding ways to change it. For Lukács. as our history. value and fact can be transcended in history.we are able to regard the whole of reality as history (i.
It is 'given' that society is based upon capitalism because it is the 'nature' of humankind. be held to be solved156”. and product. The problem however. the resurrection of man from his grave. The dialectical process is the ending of the confrontation of rigid appearance forms. It 155 Lukács.dialectics is not imported into history… but is derived from history made conscious of its logical manifestation at this particular point in its development157”. For Lukács “. Dialectics is the ending of a rigid confrontation of rigid forms (objectified. The object exists physically but its nature is directly linked to the faculties of the subject. of the dialectical process. “only if the subject moved in a self-created world of which it is the conscious form and only if the world imposed upon it in full objectivity. in other words. is that consciousness. by a philosopher. nor is it the practical manipulator of its purely mental possibilities.177 The 'given' here refers to the 'natural' appearance forms of the capitalist production process. 156 157 158 60 . G (1971) Supra at p. Dialectical thought however. can only succeed in the reconstitution of the whole. G (1971) Supra at p. History. the dissolution of the irrationality of the thing-initself. It is clear in this context that the dialectic conceives of the two categories of subject and object as mutally constitutive. demonstrates the dialectical nature of the relationship between humans and the external world.142 Lukács. or awareness.On Dialectical Method “The genesis. freedom and necessity. and with it the abolition of the antitheses of subject and object. all these issues become concentrated henceforth on the question of dialectical method155”.. of human action. It has been Lukács' task to establish the subject as both the producer and product of the world around us. and product. which give it meaing and content. that dissolves the reified appearance forms of capitalism cannot be forced upon the proletariat from an outside source. reified laws and objects) which entails an interplay between subject and object. because the very foundations of the “given”158 are dissolved into the products of human action and interaction with the world of objects. This in itself is a dissolution of the reified appearance forms.141 Lukács. thought) is both producer. the creation of the creator of knowledge. for instance. G (1971) Supra at p. This has been achieved by comprehending history as the proof. only then can the problem of dialectics. Dialectics thus demonstrates how humans have come to construct the world around them. In other words. and is enacted essentially between the subject and the object. if the subject (consciousness. This conception changes the role of the subject to the point that the subject is no longer the unchanged observer of the appearance forms of social reality. thought and existence.
and each epoch's contribution towards the discovery of a free. as a member of a collective who share this consciousness. and not to a throrough knowledge of everything there is in the universe. Lukács introduces the notion of the objectified worker. if it is to be a true abolition. cannot simply be the result of thought alone. if these forms of immediacy are to be abolished.177 160 161 61 . G (1971) Supra at p. Marxist society. Lukács. and the relations between commodities and their exchange values is found instead. it must be reiterated that this experience of “totality”. humankind. Most importantly however. or the “conscious commodity”. or “the whole”. Lukács argues that the worker is able to begin to see the network of human relations that underpin capitalism and its varied transactions.must instead be something that has developed from the telos of history itself. come to understand “the whole”. and not simply in thought (which would be sufficient if reification were 159 “Genuine knowledge” also refers to the ability of humans to see capitalism. the source of profit is seen in the exploitation of surplus labour. it is only when the subject looks to history that the true nature of the dialectic between humankind and the object world is uncovered. for instance. Secondly. in the relations between humans and their labour. To solve this problem. For Lukács. and other historical epochs in terms of their transitory roles in history. Lukács does not go into detail here. or “concrete knowledge” because this new found dialectical understanding of humankind's role in reality allows the subject to see beyond the ossified. This again refers to the Marxian position stated in the previous chapter regarding the objective nature of commodity fetishism. In the same way that Hegel invokes the term “ultimate knowledge”. It is this historical development in the consciousness of the worker that ushers in a new era of dialectical thought and change. or “genuine knowledge” only refers to the methodological ability to grasp reality in non-reified terms. Lukács similarly uses the term “genuine knowledge159”. The implication of this is that any change to this objective system must be made practically. the transcendence of reified bourgeois thought requires the following: Firstly. This is the point when the subject. can only discover their qualitative core if the immediacy of all reified relations is abolished. reified appearances of capitalist political economy.177 Lukács. it must also amount to their practical abolition as the actual forms of social life160. proletarian consciousness must develop out of the dialectical progression of history. classless. Lukács reiterates the need to conceptualize bourgeois society as possessing these objective characteristics that exist in a very real sense. but we can solidly assume that the trancendence of reification amounts to a knowledge of economic reality in Marxist terms. the value of goods comes to be understood in terms of the labour-theory of value. Here. G (1971) Supra at p. who is the core of all relations. However. In order for Lukács to be consistent with himself and his Marxist roots. The abolition of reified thought however. the concept of reification and all its manifestations must not be thought of as “mere modes of thought161”.
G (1971) Supra at p. Here Lukács is refering directly to the teleology of history. but satisfies himself with the explanation that this new found consciousness “is nothing but the expression of historical necessity165”. Most importantly. In this final section. the nature and structure of capitalist economy itself must change. that the dialectic is derived from history. I will briefly consider whether Lukács' work relies on a teleological conception of history. whether this even constitutes an objection to his work. But how exactly does this consciousness come about.177 62 . 162 163 164 165 Lukács. and what conditions must exist at its inception? Lukács does not address this question properly at all. and if so. It must be remembered at this point that it is in history that dialectics is discovered. praxis cannot be divorced from knowledge if we consider the two to be related dialectically.197 (original emphasis) Lukács.177 Lukács. for Marxists such as Lukács. Lastly. It is also important to note from the above quotation that a necessary part of the historical process is an awareness of the contradictions of capitalism. and a consciousness of where history is headed. an illusion)162. I will question the unclear relationship between history and human agency. This is also a necessary condition of effective revolutionary proletarian action. Lukács argues that reification can only be overcome “by constant and constantly renewed efforts to disrupt the reified structure of existence by concretely relating to the concretely manifested contradictions of the total development. The dialectic thus necessarily implies a unification of subject and object. Critique of Lukács Most importantly however. G (1971) Supra at p. Thirdly. or rather. by becoming conscious of the immanent meanings of these contradictions for the total development164”. and the very fact that it has been based upon dialectics –without the knowledge of humans to this point – means that humans have not foisted the concept upon history. So in order to overcome the reified nature of the capitalist political economy (which actively produces and reproduces the dominating ideological mechanisms of fetishism and reification). For Lukács. thought and practice must be contingently related. which underpins History and Class Consciousness. This means that history is an objective process which is based upon dialectics. but that it has been derived from it163.simply subjective. based upon the dialectical process of historical materialism. thought and action.177 Lukács. G (1971) Supra at p. the productive process and the concept of private property need to be altered in order for the ideology and false consciousness of capitalism to be dissolved. G (1971) Supra at p.
3 at p. These contradictions become apparent to the proletariat in their privileged position when they are seen as phenomena in a state of flux. but an aspect of truth and reality.198 Wood. Lukács seems to be saying that consciousness is reached if. signifying the dissolution of the subject-object. in the relations of all partial aspects to their inherent but hitherto unelucidated roots in the whole: we then perceive the tendencies which strive towards the centre of reality. like Hegel. The self-knowledge. and as the product of human action. both subjective and objective of the proletariat at any given point in its evolution is at the same time knowledge of the stage of development achieved by the whole of society.421 63 . The facts no longer appear strange when they are comprehended in their coherent reality. history has an objective. (1974) “Book Review: History and Class-Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics” in The Philosophical Review Vol. W. necessary path. and the role. believed that the historical process had a determined goal of its own. theory-praxis divide. actualized (for the most part unconsciously) by individuals. It is also this realization that conditions an awareness of “totality”. and only if. No. This ultimate goal is not an abstract ideal opposed to the process. This is however. The objective necessity of history thus requires the realization of the proletariat to manifest itself in practice. In other words.83. G (1971) Supra at p. insufficient for overcoming reified thought. As I have pointed out. A. But the insistence on the category of totality implies that the totality has an objective which dominates the process of history itself. Lukács. a category that embodies the facets and goal of historical materialism.Lukács argues that the structure of capitalism and reification can only change if the immanent contradictions of the process are made conscious. Lukács argues that the uniquely conscious object (the worker) discovers the hidden dialectic in history. “can never be more than to take the next step in the process167”. to what we are wont to call the ultimate goal.197 Lukács. G (1971) Supra at p. or deed of the proletariat. It is the concrete meaning of each stage reached and an integral part of the concrete 166 167 168 Lukács. and only then will the proletariat become the identical subjectobject of history whose praxis will change reality166. the telos of history is discovered by the proletariat: only when the consciousness of the proletariat is able to point out the road along which the dialectics of history is objectively impelled… will the consciousness of the proletariat awaken to a consciousness of the process. It is imperative that the proletariat realizes their role within the design of history. There is thus an aim dominating the process as a whole168: Thus dialectical materialism is seen to offer the only approach to reality which can give action a direction. nations and classes.
64 . At the same time however. on its class consciousness170. but an inevitability that requires agency to progress. because the worker realizes that she is a object akin to all other commodities herself. In other words. Wood argues in his review of History and Class Consciousness that the proletariat’s role is to identify the telos of history and to subsequently make itself the vehicle of its actualization (just the same way world individuals and certain nations actualize the World Spirit). where workers collectively control the forces of production. Lukács’ approach relies on a teleological theory of history that seems to correlate with Hegel’s work more so than Marx's.e. which is supposed to lead to the development of the identical subject-object (the objectified worker)172. Because of this.. The difficulty arises from trying to establish the true relationship between the dialectic. He sees his work as a project in establishing a new impetus for social change that is in the true spirit of Marxism. The consciousness of the worker that is supposed to 169 170 171 172 Lukács.23 Lukács. that he wants to avoid anything that smacks of fatalism171. G (1971) Supra at p. he chose to focus upon the development of consciousness based on an awkwardly explained process. The telos of history is the perception (and ultimate form) of history as a whole. to bring about change at the opportune moment: Only the conscious will of the proletariat will be able to save mankind from the impending catastrophe. The proletariat utilizes its new found knowledge of the “totality” of history. It is because of this unclear position.moment. It is to know the direction that determines concretely the correct course of action at any given moment – in terms of the interest of the total process. which allows the proletariat to see the overarching “design” or process of humankind towards a classless. the emancipation of the proletariat169. or relationship between history and emerging consciousness. as an unconscious meta-process. Totality thus seems to be a historical inevitability. and the development of proletarian consciousness. i. G (1971) Supra at p. Instead of intensively focusing upon the economic processes that bring about change.xxv Again. that Lukács is forced to rely so heavily upon the teleology of history. viz. Lukács makes it clear however. mechanistic fatalism” Lukács. to comprehend it is to recognize the direction taken (unconsciously) by events and tendencies towards the totality. this situation is the coming to consciousness of the same subject-object.. This problem can be reduced to the fact that Lukács himself was unclear on how. when the final economic crisis of capitalism develops. Marxist society. and at which point. the fate of the revolution (and with it the fate of mankind) will depend on the ideological maturity of the proletariat. along with the systemic contradictions of capitalism. consciousness is supposed to come about.70 In the preface to the second edition of History and Class Consciousness he announces “My deep abhorrence of . G (1971) Supra at p.
if an entirely passive subject is posited. The emergence of this revolutionary consciousness. The contradictions and antagonisms within the capitalist mode of production can only present themselves. the subject necessarily needs to be influenced by the appearance forms of capitalism. For the most part.xix Lukács. by conceding too much agency to the individual or subject. and if so. only “contemplative 173” (as opposed to practical). is instead referred to as “purely intellectual” and therefore. G (1971) Supra at p. the possibility exists that reification and false consciousness become insurmountable forms of domination. The “next step” relies upon the ideological maturity of the working class as they act upon their new found knowledge. meaning that they help develop and further the course of history towards its Marxist goal. which develop a false-consciousness with regards to the nature of social reality. in all their intensity. if a true liberation from this type of consciousness is possible given the nature of the passive subject up to this point. will not bring about systemic change if it is to remain an unconscious force. The problem that Lukács' work encounters is how to reconcile these issues of agency and historical design (the whole or totality) without placing too much emphasis on either side of the dialectic. It is thus Lukács’ project to construct a historical subject that agrees with the economic and ideological determinants of Marxism. the plenitude of the totality does not need to be consciously integrated into the motives and objects of action174”. unconscious actions necessarily entail “an aspiration towards the totality”. A further problem with agency is that. What is unclear however.emerge from this uncertain position is later refuted by Lukács in the preface to the second edition of History and Class Consciousness. For Lukács. might become trivialized. such as the theory of ideology and the process of historical materialism. to the proletarian in her privileged position. It would imply that the economic structure of society and the productive forces (which determines the way in which the individual perceives the world around them) do not construct a reified social reality of appearance forms. the totality. which implies uncertainty in the historical process. or the teleological path of history. An entirely independent subject thus poses the problem of uncertainty of action. important Marxian concepts. Lukács tries to indirectly solve this problem by positing an opportunistic relationship between the subject (agency. or consciousness) and historical materialism (the teleological path of history). but who also has sufficient capacity to consciously change the material world through revolution. G (1971) Supra at p. as explained in History and Class Consciousness. For historical materialism to remain at the core of Lukács' work. takes place without the knowledge of human beings: “the totality does not need to become explicit. What I mean here is that. This process however. is the exact extent to which the appearance forms shape consciousness. If the proletariat fails to take this 173 174 Lukács.198 65 .
Lukács rephrases this by saying that this concsiousness is nothing but the expression of a historical necessity. the concentration of increasingly large amounts of capital in fewer and fewer hands. Again. by the few. the ownership of the means of production. When the proletariat become aware of these contradictions. of the the true nature of political economy (alienation. And this is by no means the invention of the proletariat. to the detriment of the dispossessed many). G (1971) Supra at p.step the situation will not pass. or consciousness. It is rather the inevitable consequence of the process in its totality. it is the proletariat that embodies this process of consciousness. or become unrecognizable in any sense. nor was it 'created' out of the void. This is an objective awareness and happens not to individuals within a class. Its consciousness appears as the immanent product of the historical dialectic. Instead. We can isolate the tenuous process of the proletariat's “coming to consciousness” or “ideological maturation” into the following steps: Awareness. in an altered form. So the system of capitalism will always contain and present its contradictions. it can “only breathe life into the things which the dialectics of history have forced into a crisis. but to the whole class of workers collectively.198 Lukács. but these contradictions will only be revealed to those capable of seeing them (the proletariat). inequality. what makes these contradictions apparent to the worker. one which changed from being an abstract possbility to a concrete reality only after it had become part of the consciousness of the proletariat and had been made practical by it176 For Lukács. exploitation. It is in this that the “objective necessity of history consists175”. along with the telos of history. When this consciousness comes about. is an awareness of the dialectical nature of reality (and therefore history) brought upon by the workers insights into the economy. it can never 'in practice' ignore the course of history. forcing on it what are no more than its own desires or knowledge. “the contradiction will remain unresolved and will be reproduced by the dialectical mechanics of history at a higher level. For it is itself nothing but the contradictions of history that have become 175 176 Lukács. domination) all starts with the worker's consciousness of her own objectification. Lukács argues that what is 'reflected' in the consciousness of the proletariat is the new positive reality arising out of the dialectical contradictions of capitalism.204 66 . Workers thus become aware of the essence of political economy and the contradictions of capitalist society (for example. with an increased intensity. G (1971) Supra at p. brought on by the dialectical historical process.
181 Lukács. G (1971) Supra at p. not explained in any detail. because of the dialectical unfolding of the historical process. Lukács makes a more clear and simplistic reason for why it is only the proletariat that witness this: “This can be seen only from the standpoint of the proletariat because the meaning of these tendencies is the abolition of capitalism and so for the bourgeoisie to become conscious of them would be tantamount to suicide180”. G (1971) Supra at p.181 Lukács. and is historically bound to happen. G (1971) Supra at p. on the other hand. Lukács describes the situation of the bourgeoisie as an “image of frozen reality that nevertheless is caught up in an unremitting. something that the bourgeoisie simply cannot obtain. The material and ideological circumstances that are required to lead to this development of consciousness are however. Lukács. Here.181. The problem that Lukács encounters in History and Class Consciousness is exactly how to concretely identify the conditions that would lead to historical materialism's fruition. Lukács is refering directly to the course of history as it reaches its teleological goal. Lukács thus believes that the culmination of the historical process.181 “By becoming aware of the commodity relationship the proletariat can only become conscious of itself as the object of the economic process. He goes on further to say that the bourgeois reified forms of thought (for instance that of the rule of capital over labour) “will stand helpless when confronted by the enigmatic forces thrown up by the course of events. The proletariat are privileged in their position because they can see this objective historical transformation.conscious177. he even goes so far as to say that it is a “historical necessity”. The extension of this realization to all those in the working class seems so unlikely that we could call this new found consciousness nothing more than an imputed consciousness. The worker's consciousness of herself as a commodity may be one thing. it is possible for the proletariat to discover that it is itself the subject of this process even though it is in chains and is for the time being unconscious of the fact”. For the commodity is produced and even the worker in his quality as commodity. But if the reification of capital is dissolved into an unbroken process of its production and reproduction. The working class. based upon historical materialism: it must happen. is still at hand. ghostly movement179”. as Marx foresaw it. this is a historical necessity explained by the telos of history. act upon their new knowledge and awareness. 67 . G (1971) Supra at p. and the actions open to [the bourgeois] will never be adequate to deal with this challenge178”. but the leap to a critical deconstruction of the economic processes of capitalism in Marxian terms is something completely different. as an immediate producer is at best a mechanical driving wheel in the machine. G (1971) Supra at p. He argues that the bourgeoisie “live in the past” and are unaware of the objective developments of the historical process as it advances towards its goal. Proletarian class consciousness depends on the worker realizing that she is nothing more than a commodity herself181. the rule of the proletariat. But to Lukács. What 177 178 179 180 181 Lukács.177-178 Lukács.
. whether we are conscious of it or not. to progress beyond the notion of an 'imputed' class consciousness183”.xviii Lukács. G (1971) Supra at p. G (1971) Supra at p. focussing particularly upon the unclear relationship between history and agency. is that the teleological basis of Lukács' thought – in itself – does not negate his project or his work. In other words. But even if there is a teleological aspect to history.xix 68 . projects the consciousness of the worker onto the historical process. but fails in convincing the reader of the means required to achieve this goal. and I will therefore. demonstrable process that is systemic. The forces are material. limit myself to a brief internal analysis of Lukács' work.Lukács achieves in History and Class Consciousness is an identification of what needs to be done (the mobilization of class consciousness). something he admits to doing in the preface to the second edition of History and Class Consciousness: “I was unable. as a work in teleology. teleology is materially substantiated. G (1971) Supra at p. which is more 182 183 184 Lukács. This is apparent in Lukács' use of explanatory terms like “inevitable consequence” and “historical necessity182”. and Marx's. It becomes clear that Lukács instead. The historical fact that society will undergo systemic change is an inevitability. does this mean that Lukács is guilty of relying on a “mythological” force. and not properly explained. is that the historical processes driving the design are mysterious and mythological. What we can solidly conclude at this point. But it has been established that Lukács. it is the necessary result of a system in dialectical tension. The process of “coming to consciousness” is never properly explained. What might be implied by a description of his work. This is why Lukács' work in History and Class Consciousness becomes reliant upon teleology: in failing to concretely identify the ideological and material conditions required for class consciousness to emerge. as opposed to Hegel's. It is an objective. who needs to do it (the proletariat). He goes on to say that “[i]n my presentation it would indeed be a miracle if this 'imputed' consciousness could ever turn into revolutionary praxis184”. It is not within the scope of this work to argue either for or against the theory of historical materialism. Lukács falls back upon the inevitability of the historical process. saying that history is destined to provide such conditions by virtue of the principle of the dialectic.. as Hegel did? Proponents of orthodox Marxism would argue that historical materialism. that is justified methodologically. because it can be justified by an explanation of history based upon dialectical methodology. according to the principles of the dialectic. is by no means a mythological force. not mythological or transcendental.177 Lukács.
mythological because it relies upon the unexplained force that is “The World Spirit”. and however truly based on an adequate knowledge of society 185”. G (1971) Supra at p. such as Hegel's. It is simply obscure and entirely opportunistic to state that even if a worker becomes aware of herself as an objectified commodity. this does not mean that the act of cognition is thereby freed of its alienated nature186”. or objectification. and establish a consciousness and genuine knowledge of reality. but is instead obtained as a class. Again. but serves to highlight the principle point of departure between a mythological teleology. The unclear relationship between the teleology of history and the “next step”. come about. In other words. it is a theory of history based upon material processes that results in the political empowerment of previously alienated subjects. Lukács himself concedes in the preface to the second edition of History and Class Consciousness that the genuinely identical subject-object cannot be created by this proposed self-knowledge. This is an expedient way of assuring that consciousness is not reached by an individual. Lukács' attempt to explain how consciousness. instead of the other way around. The tenuous link between history and consciousness asks important questions of historical materialism in general (such as the nature of agency). Historical materialism is thus not a phantom force. The first problem comes from ascribing an objective circumstance to all those in the working class. that is specifically problematic. and convenient. the relation of the historical process to the consciousness of the subject remains mysterious. functionalist 185 186 Lukács. or a specific few. instead of arriving at a necessary conclusion through a series of logically argued premises. And even if the worker was able to come to these conclusions. so as to ensure the maximum possibility for systemic change. He goes further to say that “even when the content of knowledge is referred back to the knowing subject. and hence historical change. this knowledge does not translate into a dissolution of reification. makes it apparent that Lukács project begins with its conclusion. I have argued earlier that the process of the worker identifying herself as the identical subject-object is an opportunistic one and fails to explain “the next step” in the historical process clearly. this is not a defence of historical materialism and all its tenets. and a theory of the material development of history. G (1971) Supra at p. It is however. What has emerged from this brief analysis is that there is one aspect of Lukács' thought that is unclear. Although the teleological process in itself may not be mythological. which sees the working class arrive at a new practical consciousness.xxiii Lukács. the rule of the working class and the abolition of capitalism. as Marx did. such as Lukács'. Lukács starts out with the conclusion: the certainty of systemic change. He then proceeds to establish a process that would lead to this conclusion. The conclusion thus necessitates the premises. let alone a massive group of disassociated individuals involved in different types of labour. This explains Lukács' expedient. The leap of logic and intuition for the worker is improbable in any individual case.xxiii 69 . “however adequate. she will be capable of deconstructing the entire political economy down to its exploitative roots.
and still acts. bureaucracy. Reification was Lukács' answer to the question of why revolution had not yet happened in his time. the seemingly impervious presence of capitalism today. Although I will focus upon arguments such as these later in this thesis. the political result of this is that capitalist social reality appears to us as “natural” and '”he best we can hope for”. advanced capitalism has smoothed over all the previous glaring contradictions that are supposed to act as areas of intense contention between the dominant and the oppressed classes. law. which again is a realization that is foisted upon the process by Lukács. the reified appearance forms of capitalism remain very much intact. As Herbert Marcuse argues. The social.conception of the worker and how she comes to see her own objectification and exploitation. and the market driven economy are all based upon the same principles which stem from the production process of capitalism itself.cannot imagine a qualitatively different universe of discourse and action. in advanced. It is important to note however that all of these amount to an acceptance of the contentions of 70 . Lukács' work thus aimed to provide the means to a presupposed end. political institutions. does not mean that History and Class Consciousness lacks relevance. mass media and commodity fetishism. it is important to take note of how Lukács' theory of reification still rings true. Although most consider the Marxist project of communist revolution to be outdated or otiose. This however. It is for these reasons that the entire conscientization of the working class in History and Class Consciousness is an imputed process. such as democracy. modern capitalism.. technology. as a powerful insight into the fundamental question facing domination theory: Why do the oppressed many accept the rule of the privileged few? The critique of reification and the expansion of Marx's concept of commodity fetishism led to a significant expansion of social critique as a whole. There are various mechanisms that allow for this adaptation and suppression to take place. As I have explained earlier. serves to verify that. at some level. such as the communist challenge of Lukács' time. In many respects. It is subsequently proposed that the dialectical nature of history becomes known. such as technological advances. political and economic areas of life are all reflections of the underlying rationality and calculability which is endemic to the capitalist productive process. even more so. despite various disruptions. It was Lukács' intention to try and show how culture. and it is the means which hang together so problematically. Marcuse argues that the reified mind (or One-Dimensional man as he calls it) is a consciousness which . Advanced capitalism has thus developed a capacity to contain and manipulate subversive imagination and effort. the critique of reification acted. What we can take away from this analysis is Lukács' powerful critique of objectified alienated society based on his concept of reification.
25-6 71 . H (1991) One Dimensional Man at p. The chapter will reveal the progression of social critique which I have traced back to Marx's crucial concept of commodity fetishism.modern capitalism. resulting in the continuation of conditions of domination.e. The culture industry thus helps create a social reality that falsely conscientizes individuals. 187 Marcuse. Most important is their work on the culture industry which serves as an explanation of how the appearance forms of capitalism are maintained by the institutions of capitalism itself. the promise of an ever-more-comfortable life for an ever-growing number of people187. In the next chapter I will turn my attention to the monumentally influential work of Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno and their book Dialectic of Enlightenment. i.
D & Swindal. and indeed. can be attributed to the underlying search for enlightenment. did not unfold in the same way as Lukács saw it. the importance of theory as a “promotive factor in the development of the masses”. the relation of production and culture. an approach that the critical theory of Horkheimer and Adorno sought to further. Adorno. There is thus no historical necessity (historical materialism) at work in the historical process. are specific products of capitalism. rational social state of affairs that is characterized by stability.18 The development of a reasonable. They accordingly divorce the concept of domination from its historical development in capitalism. objects and the relation between them) lay189. The Frankfurt school intended to approach this problem on a theoretical level in order to “break the spell” of reification and fetishism under which everything (human beings. In Dialectic of Enlightenment. the effects of reification and the way each aspect of society contains within itself “the possibility of unraveling the social whole or totality”190”. or capitalism. it was the interrogation of orthodox Marxism that set Lukács apart from his contemporaries191. and instead focus upon the the relationship between enlightenment and domination from as far back as early Greece. Horkheimer and Adorno in the Dialectic of Enlightenment aimed to show how humankind have reached an unreasonable state of affairs by intending to achieve the exact opposite192. especially to his theory of reification that was discussed in the previous chapter. For Horkheimer and Adorno. as a system of domination. the development of capitalism.7 Wiggershaus. I will proceed to give a detailed analysis of this process later on in this chapter. and Marcuse. R (2004) “The Frankfurt School's “Nietzschean Moment” at p. R (2004) Supra at p. J (eds) Critical Theory at p. The work of the Frankfurt school is greatly indebted to the work of Lukács. The theory of reification constitutes one of the conceptual pillars of critical theory. 72 . D (2004) Supra at p. most significantly Horkheimer. 188 189 190 191 192 Wiggershaus. domination.Chapter 3 Critical Theory: The Contribution of Horkheimer and Adorno Horkheimer and Adorno agreed with Marx and Lukács that philosophy could demonstrate that capitalism “was not merely an economic or political crisis but a catastrophe for the human essence188”. Critical theorists such as Horkheimer and Adorno retained many of Lukács' concerns: “the interplay between history and theory.18 Held. The common thread that holds the founders of critical theory together. The point is to recognize that Horkeimer and Adorno do not agree with Lukács that reification.7 in Rassmusen.8 Held. D & Swindal. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that the products of history such as feudalism. Although many criticized his conception of the standpoint of the proletariat. J (eds) Critical Theory Vol 1: Critical Perspectives at p. D (2004) “Introduction to Critical Theory” in Rassmusen. is the tradition of Marx's critique of the fetish character of capitalist social production.
The following questions subsequently became important: “How could the relationship between theory and practice now be conceived? Could theory preserve hope for the future? In changing historical circumstances how could the revolutionary ideal be justified?194”. and 3) In their exile in the United States they experienced the success of a capitalist system which integrated the underprivileged masses through organized mass culture (the culture industry). and the campaigning of the radical left parties. must be provided.I will proceed to unpack these conceptual shifts from earlier forms of Marxist social critique in the section below. The forecasts of historical materialism had not come to fruition. D (2004) Supra at p. 193 194 Hohendahl. 2) In Germany and Italy they encountered Fascism. up until the Second World War. The individual's experience of social reality in capitalism therefore develops patterns of thought. For Horkheimer and Adorno. P (1985) “The Dialectic of Enlightenment Revisited: Habermas' Critique of the Frankfurt School” in New German Critique No. has made real class divisions invisible. The theoretical continuity from the work of Lukács remains in Horkheimer and Adorno's belief that modern society is characterized by alienation. in agreement with Marcuse. which reflect the logic of the productive process.16 73 . in order to afford these changes some sort of perspective. or as Marcuse would argue.11 Held. believed that the contradictions in “liberal democracies” were being annulled by an integration of the oppressed masses into the existing system through the commodification of culture in the form of entertainment193. a brief historical context to the Dialectic of Enlightenment. a political system which proved that capitalism could overcome the contradictions predicted by Marx's historical materialism by reorganizing the political order. obscures the points of contention and contradiction between the classes in capitalist society. the conditions of late capitalism could no longer allow Horkheimer and Adorno to maintain any hope in the revolutionary potential of the proletariat. Horkheimer and Adorno. the integration of society into a “mass-society”.35 at p. The Shift from Ideological Critique to the Meta-Critique of Instrumental Rationality The questions that faced Horkheimer and Adorno arose directly from the failed Marxist approach to social change which had been prevalent in the 20th century. controlled by the culture industry. and their attempts to conscientize the working class. However. We can summarize the historical circumstances that influenced the theoretical shifts in Dialectic of Enlightenment as follows: 1) The Frankfurt School was faced with the peculiar development of Marxism in Russia (Stalinism). had not amounted to anything. However. and the pervasiveness of reified appearance forms.
he critiqued the enterprise of political economy by expanding upon and explicating new and varied results of the traditional approach. Habermas argues poignantly that the Marxian critique of ideology “furthers the process of Enlightenment by unearthing a category mistake which stems from the fusion of declared validity claims with hidden power claims 196”. Marxist critique is a critique of ideology that aims to reveal the essence. For Marxist social theorists. J (eds) (2004) at p. and what could liberate humankind from these circumstances. In other words. The critique of ideology is thus 195 196 Marx's analysis of political economy was to begin with the accepted definitions of the categories used by political economy and to show how these categories turn into their opposites. By 74 . capitalist economic theory used concepts derived solely from the appearance forms of capitalism and applied these to the same phenomena which they intended to explain. J (1982) “The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Re-Reading Dialectic of Enlightenment” transl. because it demystifies. the concepts failed to explain the capitalist mode of production. Instead. in abandoning Marx and Lukács' theory of historical materialism. Lukács and the authors of Dialectic of Enlightenment. they still believed. by creating theories of capital flow economists derived knowledge from the workings of the capitalist economy. was the shift from a Marxian critique of ideology to a meta-critique of all ideologies. In the section below I will show the principal theoretical shifts that Horkheimer and Adorno made in order to establish their own new form of social critique. His method was not to contrast his own dialectical methodology and standards with that of traditional political economists. but disagreed with both on how this situation arises. It is for this reason that the traditional categories of political economy cannot be used to truly understand the workings of political economy. Marx concluded that the categories of political economy were simply being measured against their own content. His intention was to show that when the logical implications of traditional political economy were thought through to their end. In other words. The aim here is to demonstrate the differences in thought between Marx. the role of ideological critique was to challenge the truth of a suspicious theory (for instance the theories of the Classical economists) by exposing its falseness. and rationally explains. as Marx and Lukács did. and how Horkheimer and Adorno came to formulate their own answer to the problem of domination. These bourgeois theories of political economy were thus theories based on the observed functioning of capitalism. The aim here was to discover the underlying exploitative reality of the economy by establishing the falseness of capitalist economic theories which analyzed only “appearance” forms195. The type of knowledge that this ideological critique provides can be described as a kind of enlightenment. This aspect of Marx's procedure has been called immanent “categorical critique”. or reality at work behind these apparent forms of capitalism. and the potential revolutionary class consciousness of the proletariat. This took the form of an ideological critique of essence and appearance which I explained in the first chapter. Benhabib. D & Swindal.6-7 (Sage: London) Habermas. the workings of the economy and the subservience of the worker to conditions of exploitation. were faced with the task of providing an entire new social theory that held the same principle at heart: freedom from domination. S (2004) “The Critique of Instrumental Reason” in Rasmussen. For example. and did not understand what in fact constituted capital and its value. or lack of veracity. One of the most significant shifts to take place between Marxist social theorists and Horkheimer and Adorno. that existence in capitalist society is inauthentic and exploitative.Horkheimer and Adorno. and not on a deeper knowledge of what drives the processes of capitalist production.
Y. reification and domination. Critical Theory and Modernity (Spring . and can no longer reveal the truth.xv This is in fact the thesis of Dialectic of Enlightenment which I will expand upon later. no longer applied. fetishism. At this point we must remember that all these social theories. 26. This however. M & Adorno. but the enterprise of ideological critique itself. who attempted to reinterpret and reapply Marxist theory to changing circumstances. The authors argue that the critique of ideology. For Horkheimer and Adorno on the other hand. and even flourish. the very basis of this critique has been destroyed. but the redemption of the hopes of the past198”. The Marxian idea that reason existed in two potential forms. The task to be accomplished is not the conservation of the past. 1982) at p. It is the first indication of Enlightenment's reflexivity. deal with emancipation from a world that is characterized by alienation. New German Critique. to Lukács and Horkheimer and Adorno. the epistemology of bourgeois theories was debunked and critiqued according to a different type of critical reason that before. in a new manner197: Horkheimer and Adorno argue: “The point is. is not only incredulity towards the Marxian critique of ideology. Horkheimer and Adorno's work is thus a critique of a critique that is aimed at negating the proposed intentions of the critique of ideology. Horkheimer and Adorno focus upon is the fact that such circumstances persist. was hidden unto itself. whilst still believing in the revolutionary potential of the proletariat.. to a critique of all ideologies because of the reason that capitalism has come to embrace and reify. that of the theories articulated by “bourgeois ideals” (appearance) and “the objective meaning of existing institutions” (essence). What Lukács..Summer. At the time they wrote Dialectic of Enlightenment. 197 198 199 75 . it is a suspicion of all ideologies because of the specious nature of the very reason that they themselves employ199. No.Enlightenment carrying out a critique on its own products (its theories). As I have shown in the first chapter.20 Horkheimer. if men are not wholly to be betrayed. For now it is sufficient to note that Horkheimer and Adorno shift their critique from a critique of ideology. T. it was Marx's intention to depart from the theories posited by “bourgeois ideals” by showing that these ideals only serve to dominate the working class. from Marx's work. As I have shown in the chapter on Marx. Enlightenment has thus become reflexive for a second time. Horkheimer and Adorno Levin. J (1982) Supra at p. T (1997) Dialectic of Enlightenment at p. There is thus a degree of consensus regarding the circumstances of capitalist society.20 Habermas. despite evidence that these circumstances are exploitative and oppressive. can no longer produce or discover truth. that the Enlightenment must examine itself. it is not only the separate ideologies that are untruthful or problematic. as an attempt to establish truths through reflexivity. The authors approach the problem differently from writers such as Lukács. Horkheimer and Adorno believed that the critique of ideology could not be continued because the reason that constituted its foundations should be questioned. For Horkheimer and Adorno however.
Horkheimer and Adorno “raise the question of the extent to which emancipatory practice and theory already contribute to unfreedom and undercut emancipation200”. For Horkheimer and Adorno. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment. Horkheimer and Adorno see Marxian immanent critique as an enterprise that criticizes prevailing practices and knowledge in an attempt to show that they are false. grounds its ideology in reason. which is.T. emancipatory theory derives its ideals from the very same reason that leads to the establishment of conditions of domination in the first place. it is that the problematic relationship between theory and practice. and role. thereby confirming that its doctrines do not necessarily offer a key to truth. has become a question in and of itself. (1992) Supra at p. that once an ideology has been successfully critiqued. The most important question for Horkheimer and Adorno is: how is thought to function in the attempt to overcome alienated life without becoming a co-conspirator in the practice of domination? The authors approached this question in Dialectic of Enlightenment and came to the conclusion that theory alone could not overcome alienation and domination. J. according to the 200 201 202 Sullivan.208-209 Sullivan. They argue however. or theory and political emancipation. 1992) at p.T. (1992) “Between Impotence and Illusion: Adorno's Theory of Art and Practice” in New German Critique.94 76 . No. The authors question the role of emancipatory theory by further problematizing the theory-practice debate. If the Dialectic of Enlightenment draws any conclusions. M & Lysaker. This is principally because the formation of any approach to emancipation is blind its own self-formation (or deformation) and it therefore incorporates what it seeks to overcome. such as Lukács' theory of class consciousness discussed in the previous chapter.undercut this position by questioning the effectiveness. of this type of emancipatory theory altogether. J. capitalism does not only generate its own form of repressive ideology. T (1991) A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (2nd ed) at p. In other words. For them. Horkheimer and Adorno critically question the possibility of political action by problematizing the relationship between humans and the world. M & Lysaker. Horkheimer and Adorno criticize both capitalism and Soviet socialism. A new means and end to emancipation.83 Bottomore.57 (Autumn. Marxism has also become a repressive ideology in its Stalinist manifestation. The Dialectic of Enlightenment intensifies the problematic relation between theory and practice. Horkheimer and Adorno's work in Dialectic of Enlightenment problematizes the very expectation that the theory-praxis divide could ever be resolved202. immanent critique is required to offer a means for the achievement of emancipation from conditions of domination. Classical Marxist concepts are therefore inadequate to account for Stalinism and fascism201.
to problematize both reason.95 Habermas. as well as the way in which we formulate emancipatory ideals. based upon pervasive 203 204 205 206 “Out of nothing” Sullivan. It is precisely the authors intention to problematize this overarching reason which they believe to be responsible for the continuation of domination and exploitation. The question is whether emancipatory theory really does have either the ends or the means with which to achieve emancipation. from where should critical theory formulate its ideals? Horkheimer and Adorno found that by questioning the formulation of ideals. is to leave emancipatory theory between a rock and no-place: “it has neither the ends nor the means with which to achieve emancipation204”. (1992) Supra at p. and how this drove them to develop emancipatory programs that were bound up with principles of domination.22 Zizek. J (1982) Supra at p. has become assimilated to power and has thereby given up its critical power – this is a final unmasking of a critique of ideology applied to itself205”. and instead rely upon existing frameworks of reason and understanding. The shift necessitates that reifiying “instrumental reason” is no longer grounded in concrete capitalist social relations. Habermas captures Horkheimer and Adorno's position concisely in the following quote: “Reason. but itself almost imperceptibly becomes their quasi-transcendental “principle” or “foundation”206”. Marx and Lukács. 81 Dialectic of Enlightenment at p.112-113 77 . The shift from Marxism. over and above the questioning of what a “means” or an “ends” is. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that the previous forms of emancipatory theory (such as Marx and Lukács' theories) do not possess either. one questions the overarching reason. and the work of Lukács. M & Lysaker. I will show later how instrumental rationality has become fetishized in the unquestioned methods and status of science. bound up with domination. S (2000) “From History and Class Consciousness to the Dialectic of Enlightenment and Back” in New German Critique. and how this amounts to the mythologizing of science. They did not see the overarching rationality that guided their theories. and an extension of the concept of reification.T.authors. to the critique provided by Horkheimer and Adorno can be described as “a fateful shift from concrete socio-political analysis to philosophico-anthropological generalization. The authors bring into question ends – means rationality altogether. But for now we must make note of the fact that Horkheimer and Adorno change the focus and intentions of social critique and create a new sweeping type of critique called “totalizing critique”. The ideals of emancipatory theory cannot be drawn up ex nihilo203. such as Hegel. However. have been blind to the conditions out of which their theories of emancipation grew. or epistemology. If this is the case. No. This is the shift to “totalizing” critique: a general critique of society that identifies a type of domination that extends from a common and inclusively pervasive type of thought: instrumental rationality. J. Horkheimer and Adorno thus believe that emancipatory theorists. once instrumentalized. that one takes for granted which informs these ideals.
reality is subject to reason that is universal and transcendent . D & Swindal. In contrast to this. The authors argue that instrumental rationality is developed and perfected historically alongside the development of the human species. For Lukács.170 78 .47 No. such as Lukács. In other words. identified instrumental thought (Lukács focused upon formal rationality) and action in capitalism.1 at p. and therefore. and 2) reason in a subjective sense which establishes reason in the individual consciousness alone.. According to the second category. It must be remembered that enlightened thought. Horkheimer and Adorno strip domination of any class character. B. Other Marxist social theorists. reason is “entirely a faculty of a subject who confronts a world which.129 Horkheimer. Reason thus exists in an objective sense.176 in Shaw. [the] calculating contemplation of the world as prey208” that characterizes humankind's approach to the world. The shift in Horkheimer and Adorno's work is to conceptualize instrumental reason as the driving force behind history and the development of the social. outside of the consciousness of humans. not been discovered. L “Historical Positions” in Rasmussen. With regard to the first conception of reason. strives to continually purge reality of mythology (unknowns). instrumental rationality exists long before capitalism. and reduce it to a general. the second category is called “instrumental reason” which comes to underpin the epistemological approach of the Enlightenment. but attributed this to the normative and ideological effects of the historically specific capitalist work process.J. The critique of instrumental rationality is not simply the identification of a new type of reason that has. the principles underlying the forces of production became the principles of human thought and action. aside from the significance which he imparts to it. Nostalgia and Eschatology in the Critical Theory of Max Horkheimer” in The Journal of Politics Vol. of yet. J (2004) Supra at p. Reason and Instrumental Rationality In what way do Horkheimer and Adorno employ the concept of “reason”. in Horkheimer and Adorno's work can be reduced to two categories: 1) reason in its original Greek use as nous which establishes reason in an external objective sense.. (1985) “Reason.. and how it is related to instrumental rationality? Reason. is totally devoid of meaning. based upon fear.instrumental reason: By fusing a critique of scientism with a critique of science and technology. cannot be the specific product of capitalism. It is the view of the world born from man's urge to dominate nature . For Horkheimer and Adorno. M (1976) The Eclipse of Reason at p. totalizing type of domination207. Reason is thus committed to the 207 208 Zuidervaart. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that instrumental rationality creates the instrumental forces of production.
This does not mean that humans cannot grant external objects a sense of significance. T (1972) Dialectic of Enlightenment at p. Along with this definition. instrumental mind approaches the world in terms of its material existence. Horkheimer argues that apart from the final clause. B.170 79 . outlined above. Its features can be summarized as the optimum adaptation of means to ends. For the authors. It must be remembered that the goal of the epistemological approach of instrumental reason is to arrive at a truth free from myth and fear of the unknown. E (1978) The Essential Frankfurt School Reader at p. this is the essence of instrumental rationality. the subject comes to approach the object instrumentally. reality is understood materialistically: it is pure stuff. Locke writes that “the word reason in the English language has different significations. sometimes it is taken for true and clear principles. cold and sober”. “Putting the world to the rack” therefore aims at an understanding of how things work. By Baillie. and drawing the right conclusion. and by knowing how things work. of hidden qualities.W. regularly and methodically ordering them. A & Gebhardt. G.J. J. This approach meant that the external object world was to be wholly quantified and understood as a diverse range of things that were subject to observed laws. For Horkheimer and Adorno. (1985) Supra at p.28 Hegel. By objectifying the external world. In other words. M (1937) “Traditional and Critical Theory” in Critical Theory (New York: Seabury. whatever does not conform to the rule of computation and utility is suspect213”. thinking as an energy conserving operation. B. 209 210 211 212 213 Shaw. 1974) as quoted in Horkheimer.28 Horkheimer uses the example of the military in order to describe how these tenets inform rational behaviour today: “Reason in this sense is as indispensable in the modern technique of war as it has always been in the conduct of business. and particularly the final cause 210”.F. M & Adorno. This material existence is presented to the consciousness exactly as it is with “no further determination of any sort 212”. M (1978) Supra in Arato.170 Horkheimer. the subject sees objects in the external world as objects to be manipulated and controlled. and instrumentality.J.J.590 in Shaw. Horkheimer.demythologization of nature by explaining it rationally. (1985) Supra at p. Horkheimer draws upon a definition of reason provided by Locke in order to outline the relationship between reason. by developing this type of reason into an epistemology. M (1978) “The End of Reason” in Arato. B. E (1978) Supra at p. Locke appended four degrees of reason: discovering truths. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that this approach to the world is what characterizes reason. humans come to be able to manipulate them for their own self-preservation. Aside from this however.B at p. A and Gebhardt. (1985) Supra at p. these functions are today still held to be rational211”. sometimes for clear and fair deductions from those principles. perceiving their connections.6 in Shaw. Bacon wrote that the world should be “put to the rack209”. (1967) Phenomenology of Mind transl. In order to explain away the unknown. and sometimes for the cause. In order to do this the enlightened. For the Enlightenment.170 Horkheimer. It is a pragmatic instrument oriented to expediency. “matter would at least be mastered without any illusion of ruling or inherent powers.
173 Rose. based on instrumental reason. The world of different explanatory concepts that arise thus have reason in common. Hegel succumbs to the charm of the Enlightenment by arguing that a final objective state of reason could be achieved. the nature of reason in modern society is “totalizing”. (1985) Supra at p. 214 215 216 Shaw. it is an instrument imposed on the reality which it constructs216”. The goal of achieving the “identity”. but to subject the world to its dictates. on the one hand. It is at this point that Horkheimer and Adorno's objection to “totalizing reason” becomes apparent. entails the radical separation of reality into a knowing subject on the one hand. For Horkheimer. For Horkheimer and Adorno. the divide between subject and object could be overcome by the self-recognition of reason in the world which eventually supersedes enlightened thought. which informs approaches such as Hegel's.169 Shaw. Horkheimer and Adorno draw upon the work of Hegel to explain the aims of the Enlightenment.J. Our understanding of all objects.J. and inert.22 in Shaw. truth is strictly instrumental: “it is whatever the subject is able to impose upon reality as the truth215”: “Truth (and identity) does not consist of correspondence between consciousness and reality or between concepts and their objects. Reason therefore “emerges. B. B. as an instrument for the subjugation of reality in the service of self preservation214”. The totalizing approach of reason cannot overcome the divide between subject and object. Reason should thus strive for a total understanding of reality. The authors believe that there is no single truth or set of truths that can be established objectively.173 80 .Enlightenment thought. (1985) Supra at p. The latter is thus always dominated by the former. and. and this is precisely what scientists such as Bacon intended to do by “putting the world to the rack”. It is the discovery of this ultimate form of reason that transcends the previous forms of enlightened thought (this conception of reason is explained as external and objective). Reason is an “absolute concept” which means that it explains all particular.J. as a universal property of reality and as the criterion by which reality is judged. B. on the other hand. the aim of reason is thus not to establish objective truths. separate external objects in terms of a universal concept. For Horkheimer and Adorno. is thus a “dishonest” one. For the authors. is bound up with reason. G (1978) The Melancholy Science at p. senseless matter on the other. and instead ossifies the subject-object divide. Humans thus impose truth onto the alienated object world. The problem of this approach is that it is “totalizing”: it leads to the domination of the world by the concepts that reason constructs. All phenomena come to be explained in terms of reason. For Hegel. (1985) Supra at p. or unity of reason and reality. according to Horkheimer and Adorno.
The goal of Dialectic of Enlightenment is to explain how humankind have failed to recognize and rectify their conditions of domination. similarly to Lukács. and in individualistic patterns of identity formation217”. that over history. In other words. Horkheimer and Adorno argue. social and economic system that remorselessly concretizes the principles of instrumental rationality. The capitalist system of production is instrumental in refining and perfecting these principle of thought. society becomes increasingly subject to these rational laws (exemplified and refined by the productive process and the market) until culture itself is a mere extension of capitalism. final account of reason is a totalitarian impulse to dominate the world entirely. Rationality thus extends to all areas of life under late industrial capitalism. 217 Habermas. and so becomes predictable and manipulable. It has come to define and determine all forms of thought and behaviour. In this sense. Reason thus builds a system of knowledge that places objects within a rationalizing set of explanatory concepts and laws. For Horkheimer and Adorno. The instrumental capabilities of humankind develop over time as rationality explains away the unknown. extends from the “internal theoretical foundations of science. It is the human drive to arrive at this final account of “the whole” that characterizes enlightened thought. Horkheimer and Adorno believe that the thought processes. Instrumental rationality has not been concretely recognized in social critique because it itself has become reified. rational relationships. industrial capitalism constructs a political. instrumental rationality is argued to be responsible for the rise of the complex industrial capitalism of today. to the point that they become entirely pervasive and inclusive. The external world becomes ordered and explained according to these laws.For Horkheimer and Adorno. For Horkheimer and Adorno. objectifying and inauthentic. in the forms of democratic decision making. Modern capitalism is a state in which the individual submits herself to the dictates of this rational plan. Lukács. The drive to explain everything rationally is inextricably linked to the desire to control the object world instrumentally. which culminates in the reified approaches of science and technology. It is also maintained that this situation is barbarous. reason drives humankind to explain the world in terms of its causal. J (1982) Supra at p. In Dialectic of Enlightenment. the answer is a derivative of reification. or epistemology.18 81 . to the universalist foundations of morality and law which have come to be embodied in the institutions of constitutional states. characteristic of modern capitalism. instrumental rationality becomes unquestioned and all-determining: it has become truly reified. the attempt to provide an inclusive. so much so that even critical thought is inextricably bound up with its principles (self-preservation. manipulation for maximum personal utility).
D & Swindal. regression rather than progress best explains current social conditions. Bronner states succinctly that the purpose of Dialectic of Enlightenment is to “situate the critique of bourgeois society within an anthropology of domination. was the shift towards “negative dialectics” from the Marxist position of “immanent critique”. Negative dialectics is based upon the principles and intentions of Marxist critical theory. or of appearances. so as to arrive at a genuine knowledge of material and social reality. 218 219 220 221 Benhabib. J (2004) Supra at p. and to a lesser extent. and for now it is sufficient to say that the purpose of immanent critique is to negate the facticity of the given. Horkheimer. The Dialectic of Enlightenment is thus a grim documentation of what “is”. Kenneth Baynes p. the former still maintain the Marxist ethic of emancipation from the conditions of capitalist domination.92 Bronner. But how do they develop this emancipatory ethic without the use of historical materialism. or the notion of the revolutionary class consciousness of the proletariat? One of the developments in the work of the critical theorists. The shift was from a view of history that contained the seeds of change (through contradictions and dialectics) to a view of history that documents the increasing impossibility of change through repression. This critique is altered by Adorno. into a critique based on “negative dialectics”. What is discovered is held up to the normative standard of the “realization of the free development of individuals through the rational constitution of society218”.81 82 . they wished to show how progress resulted in barbarism and how the very mythology of domination the Enlightenment sought to destroy reappears as its own product221”. the critical project at hand is the critique of the given in the name of a Utopian-normative standard219.Negative Dialectics Although the work of Horkheimer and Adorno differs greatly from that of Marx and Lukács. One of the important overall goals of Horkheimer and Adorno's critical project is to go beyond the empirical comprehension of the given laws and structures of society. A (1991) The Critique of Power: Reflective Stages in a Critical Social Theory transl. In other words. S. also see Honneth. Negative dialectics arose from Horkheimer and Adorno's conviction that emancipation could no longer be sought in the proletariat because there is simply no collective group that could bring about revolutionary change in society.E (1994) Supra at p. S. influenced largely by Adorno. I have explained the meaning and intent of immanent critique earlier in this chapter.91-2 Benhabib. S (2004) Supra in Rasmussen.37 (MIT Press: Massachusetts) Bronner. S (2004) “The Critique of Instrumental Reason” in Rasmussen. fascism is seen as the logical extension of state capitalism (Adorno calls this process “retrogressive anthropogenesis”)220. but differs in how one should go about pursuing change. J (2004) Supra at p.E (1994) Of Critical Theory and its Theorists at p81. In other words. D & Swindal. as well as how humankind have arrived at this repressive state.
Adorno believes that this is not the case however.24. general and particular. there existed a historically obtainable state of affairs that would be governed by an inclusive. which only reinforces these divisions. This state would reconcile the divisions between subject and object. For Adorno. becomes acceptable and unchanging. For both Hegel and Marx. For Adorno. Adorno argues that Marx and Hegel's223 dialectical approach “turn into an ideological defence of one or another of the existing orders and renounce criticism. which leads to an affirmation of the reified present. 224 Sevilla.1 at p. they strove to establish an “end point”: for Hegel it was absolute reason. S (1997) “Critical Theory and Rationality” in Boundary 2 Vol. creating an ideological understanding of it. even self-defeating224”. the affirmative dialectical approach simply leads to a continuation of the problems posed by Marx and Hegel (such as alienation. because the end point is simply a manifestation of the human desire to totally explain and dominate nature. ultimate form of reason with no contradictions. For Adorno. exploitation and domination. Therefore any positive formulation of the critical instance becomes useless. For Adorno. has produced unemancipated rationalized societies. in which the philosophy of Marx. like all Enlightenment philosophers. as affirmative dialectic of the surpassed contradictions. for Marx. Marx and Hegel's dialectic did not offer a satisfactory resolution to social problems because they ended up canceling the tension and the conflict that actually exist within human experience. This is because the reason that is employed to reconcile these divisions is bound up with the intention to dominate external reality. which revolutionary Marxism promised. Adorno believed that Marx and Hegel's dialectical reconciliation222 is ideological. such an end point is another form of reification because affirmative dialectics considers the antinomies of bourgoeis society to be resolved. 223 Lukács would also fit into Adorno's criticism because of his support of Marx's historical materialism.72 83 . This statement is based upon the authors observation that: The death of philosophy through its own fulfillment in praxis. the culmination of historical materialism and the progression towards a rational communist state. This is because such “affirmative” dialectics have an end point that inclusively explains all phenomena. appearance and essence. communism. as well as the philosophical problems such as subject-object. and their conceptions of reason are instead foisted upon the external world. reality in affirmative dialectics is attributed with rational properties and therefore. The intention of negative dialectics is to show that there is no end to this process of reconciliation.The biggest objection that Adorno had towards Hegelian and Marxist theory was that. appearance-essence). No. has been transformed into 222 For Hegel the realization of Absolute reason as an ordering concept in the world. The Hegelian and Marxist concepts of reason are thus unobtainable. The approach of negative dialectics must thus be seen in contrast to what it is not. and for Marx.
D & Swindal. those fissures in the social net. If this approach changes towards a positive conception. Adorno explains that negative dialectics seeks a “dissonance” between thought and actuality.107 84 . and conflict with. The contradiction here is that Horkheimer and Adorno are suggesting that the individual should believe in a transcendent concept. emancipatory theory. the concept loses all of its value. J (2004) Supra at p. but not identify or theorize it. and the role of the subject within it. by definition. D & Swindal. those moments of disharmony and discrepancy. through which the untruth of the whole is revealed and glimmers of another life become visible229. This is because. For Horkheimer and Adorno. subject and object is aporetic because. J (2004) Supra at p. the only relation that the individual can have towards the “absolute” is a vague longing for its incomprehensible transcendent. S (2004) Supra in Rasmussen. or unsolvable puzzles.. Adorno approaches the failure of affirmative dialectics by refuting the notion of a realizable. one another that allows us to understand the nature of social reality. S (1997) Supra at p. there is no end point. (1992) Supra at p. Adorno's criticism of an inclusive rationalizing whole is closely bound up with the refutation of praxis as the goal of critical. Adorno's work in negative dialectics continually highlights the lack of both226. M & Lysaker. such problems are. according to negative dialectics. because it would then lose its transcendent character. I have already noted that Horkheimer and Adorno further problematize the relationship between theory and praxis by questioning emancipatory theory's complicit role in perpetuating conditions of domination. Benhabib.75 Sullivan.ideological concealment of the of the real contradictions225. what role is philosophy destined to play? For Adorno. identity and non-identity228. only a negative conception of the absolute can negate present reality. thought and actuality227. insoluble contradictions. or resolution between them.95 Adorno describes the divide between theory and praxis. of what this absolute is. (Adorno in particular) the role of philosophy is to revive and revise the aporetic relationship between theory and praxis. concept and object.107 Benhabib. It is exactly how these categories contradict. a philosophy based upon practice and emancipation requires both a conception of emancipation and an understanding of how one would relate such a conception to practice. thought and actuality. S (2004) Supra in Rasmussen. or identification.T. But if there is no alternative to irrefutable irrationality. for him. For Adorno. 225 226 227 228 229 Sevilla. For Adorno. The task of the critic is to illuminate those cracks in the totality. rational whole. reality is irrefutably irrational and cannot be ordered once and for all in terms of one single concept of reason. J.
J (2004) Supra at p.. S (2004) Supra in Rasmussen. Horkheimer and Adorno did not believe in the Marxian conception of the revolutionary potential of the proletariat. and does so without formulating a proper emancipatory dynamic because it would be inconsistent with the principles of negative dialectics. stand ready to tear to pieces the person who undertakes to free them from their tutelage231”. one can yearn for a perfect sense of justice. and humanity's increased mastery over nature.73 Horkheimer. clearly did not lead to a diminished state of domination as Marx thought. Concept thus determines the content to which the concept refers. the development of the forces of production. S (1997) Supra at p. Historical experience is thus open. D & Swindal.89 in Shaw. provides a “totalizing critique” of contemporary society. worship the symbol of their prison and. There is thus no type of reason that will emancipate all humankind. M (1978) Dämmerung: Notizen in Deutschland at p. are the apes of their wardens. This is because the explanatory concept immediately relates to its content and content becomes “rigidly attached”. instead of being the vehicle of social change. “. The Dialectic of Enlightenment But what is it exactly about the totalizing nature of reason that necessarily results in a social system characterized by domination? Apart from it being totalizing.J. (1985) Supra at p. barbarous and impoverished conditions of modern society. and that critical theory must remain sensitive to the “constant displacement in unforeseeable directions of an impoverishing social rationalization process 230”. the concept becomes “affirmative”. this is a case of reason projecting its motives (the instrumental domination of nature) onto the external object world. Instead. We have therefore. they maintain that the more rationalized the domination of nature becomes. further contributing to the rationalized whole which is instrumental knowledge. As I have noted above. B. For Horkheimer and Adorno. arrived at the crux of Horkheimer and Adorno's argument: how Enlightenment has resulted in its 230 231 232 Sevilla. the more sophisticated societal domination becomes232. far from attacking their guardians. The subject foists meaning upon the external object world. Horkheimer himself wrote prior to Dialectic of Enlightenment that the working class.98 85 . what is wrong with instrumental reason? Horkheimer and Adorno answer this indirectly by showing that instrumental rationality (or Enlightenment) is responsible for creating the undesirable. and cannot be inclusively explained in terms of an “ultimate form of reason”.. Adorno argues that no single rationality must prevail. but as soon as one attempts to deliberately describe and understand what this entails.So. For Horkheimer and Adorno. The immediacy between concept and content thus describes a conceptual link between the concept and the material object that subsequently becomes “fixed”. The Dialectic Of Enlightenment therefore. for instance.168 Benhabib.
To reiterate. D & Swindal. Jurgen Habermas poignantly explains the thesis of Dialectic of Enlightenment as follows: In terms of world history. J (1982) Supra at p. the essence of Enlightenment is emancipatory: “its goal is to overcome the myths which keep humanity in a state of thaldrom and fear and this it does by replacing human fancy with scientific knowledge233”. Habermas. and is thus beyond enlightened self-reflection234”. was based on the notion that “From now on. Enlightenment is therefore. it seems strange to argue that Enlightenment could possibly become mythological. it comes to embrace and embody it. M & Adorno. For Horkheimer and Adorno. “Man imagines himself free from fear when there is no longer anything unknown236”. Modernity. while still not freeing itself from those mythical origins. from mythical thought. T (1991) “Bob Dylan and the Dialectic of Enlightenment: Critical Lyricist in the Age of High Capitalism” in Theoria 77. or Enlightenment only presents itself as the end of myth. the authors argue that the common perception that “modernity itself is the end of myth” is misguided. of hidden qualities”. the instrumental methodological approach of science and technology becomes the new unquestioned myth that dominates the explanation of the world around us. which allows humankind to instrumentally manipulate it for its own ends (technology). Enlightenment is thus based upon freedom from superstition and myth. nature becomes subject to calculation and quantification (science).14 86 . In this way. This reversal takes place “behind the back of the increasingly enlightened individual. through the process of Enlightenment. enlightened thought becomes an instrument for the domination of nature.16 Horkheimer. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that the progression towards scientific thought. matter would at least be mastered without any illusion of ruling or inherent powers. May 1991 at p. An almost completely rationalized modern world only seems to be demystified. For Horkheimer and Adorno. this quest for Enlightenment has had the opposite effect: it has produced new structures of myth. R (2004) Supra in Rasmussen. T (1997) Supra at p. In the light of the statements above. However. on it rests in fact the curse of demonic objectification and fatal isolation235. J (1982) Supra at p. despite all its attempts to divorce itself from myth 237.exact opposite: barbarism and domination. a process based on 233 234 235 236 237 Fluxman. the human species has distanced itself ever further from its origins. The central thesis of Dialectic of Enlightenment is that this process of Enlightenment capitulates to the domain of myth. fear and domination. only in a different form: that of the fetishization of the methods of science.91-92 Bubner.16 Habermas. and in its attempts to obliterate myth. In other words. J (2004) Supra at p.
Mathematically based 238 Horkheimer. T (2003) Supra at p. This is because the methodology of the instrumental scientific approach analyzes facts as they appear to humankind. science and rationality. This analysis of the role of science is similar to Lukács' theory of reification. become laws. are thus clearly borrowing from Lukács and his theory of reification. They accept it as an appropriate methodology for understanding the material world. when referring to the unquestioned. It should be noted at this point that the authors are not against science as a mode of thought per se. The adoption of the methodology of science becomes the only true way in which reality can be understood. sealing their fate as dominated subjects of capitalism. M & Adorno. It must be remembered that this occurs in the same way that myth. It is this unquestioned reliance upon the methodological paradigm of science that amounts to a myth-like condition. politics. enlightened thought becomes predetermined. For Horkheimer and Adorno. it has become mythical because.25 in Dant. when verified. which also argues that the “law-like” nature of the processes of capitalism dominates humans. The critique of science and technology is rather based upon the argument that it is not appropriate to use the methodology of natural science to understand the human world of history. Horkheimer and Adorno. and impersonation of the machine that it produces itself so that ultimately the machine can replace it238”. Science comes to create a limited and closed system of thought which is “an automatic. establish the self as a self-determining subject. At this point we are reminded of the overarching thesis of Dialectic of Enlightenment: that even though it seems as if rationality and enlightened thought are overcoming the irrationality of myth. These laws become reified and are foisted upon other unexplained phenomena in order to fit them into their rationalizing framework.the human desire to dominate nature and assert the individual. T (1979) Dialectic of Enlightenment at p. in other words.e. fetishized practices of science and instrumental rationality. Humans and nature become the subjects of domination. Thought. this process is perfected by the methods of science. or the supernatural. i.25 87 . science as an epistemological approach is becoming a form of mythic thought itself. selfactivating process. For Horkheimer and Adorno. as a paradigm. Facts are placed into explanatory scientific theories which. philosophy and sociology. it doesn't question the basis of its knowledge or the practices of thinking. Horkheimer and Adorno's argument is that science comes to fulfill the same function. is controlled and repetitive because of an unreflexive reliance upon the principles of the scientific approach. submitting themselves and their thought to the preconditions of reason and modernity. becomes the unquestioned basis for early humankind's approach towards reality. Instead of thought being free.
which becomes the paragon of enlightened thought. morality and metaphysics. R (ed) (1995) The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy at p. positivism. Adorno argues in his later life that this criticism of positivism does not mean that the study of the individual as an object is necessarily wrong (this 239 Logical positivism.J. One is the application of the natural sciences to society. J (eds) (2004) The Social Science Encyclopedia 3rd ed at p. B.770). Scientific fetishism here refers to the pervasive methodology of science which has become the dominant. The positivist approach is based upon experience. This is strikingly evinced in Hegel's system.science thus should not be the model for all human knowledge because not every phenomenon can be reduced to its grounding in sensory experience and observation. For Adorno. For Horkheimer and Adorno.56 241 Shaw. 240 Heller. They thus believed that any statement about the world must be verifiable through experience and observation (Audi. but asserts itself also in the natural sciences and their self-understanding. M (1978) “The Positivism Dispute as a Turning Point in German Post-War Theory” in New German Critique No. Reason abandons its self-consciousness as something other than the world and declares itself by fiat to be identical with it. positivism is like all other philosophical systems in that it seeks to annul “all that refuses to be swept up into it”. positivism is characterised by two features which are not necessarily linked together. the other is the notion that one presupposes that which exists positively to be absolutely existent240.445 ). For the positivists. If this is not possible. 1978) at p. Positivists thus rejected religion.15 (autumn. is a philosophical movement based upon the core approaches of empiricism and verificationism. This approach however is based upon the assumption that positivism possesses the necessary analytical tools to appropriate the truth unproblematically. This approach to the understanding of the social is found in the positivist school239 which Horkheimer and Adorno criticize at length. Logical positivism is believed to be the consequence of scientific fetishism. also called positivism. Positivists argue that theories should be built upon generalizations which are in turn based upon observation. the subject of study must fall outside the realm of proper scientific discourse (Kuper. and how thoughts about the world can be reduced to their constituent material experiences. For Horkheimer and Adorno. A & Kuper. (1985) Supra at p. this meant that theory that could not be subjected to scientific criteria was not worth studying.173 88 . Positivism's drive to explain all things rationally characterizes the efforts of science. positivism as an approach simply “yields to the facts as they are”. The driving force of the positivism that grew out of the 1920's was the adherence to verifiability criteria for the meaningfulness of cognitive statements. For the positivists truth is self-evident. and unquestioned approach to explaining the world around us. Positivism is the terminus ad quem of enlightenment: the surrender of the enlightenment to the sheer brute force of facts241. Horkheimer and Adorno's objection is that the positivist approach to the social tries to reduce the subject to an object (the human to an abstracted object of empirical study) that can be studied with the techniques and methods of the material sciences. A & Ritter.
The culture industry deals with people's minds directly. cannot be reduced to the status of an object. thus come to pervade all areas of thought and knowledge. convinces individuals that capitalism is a “natural” state. Domination is so complex because it is an ontological state. The critique of Enlightenment is thus a critique of the fetishization of science and its methods. movies and magazines. must be scrutinized. For Horkheimer and Adorno. and is capable of propagating values and norms through the mediums of radio. or the task of studying humanity as a whole. the culture industry. Scientific positivism creates an insular understanding of the world which does not formulate alternatives to current. and actively contributes to the reification of the social system of capitalism. For the authors. culture. positivism (which can also entails a scientific approach to the social) cannot take up a position that is outside of society and therefore. has also become an extension of capitalism. science and instrumental rationality increasingly inform the process of knowledge formation and legitimation outside of physical science. the natural scientific approach to the social has a social impact that goes beyond the domination of nature: it results in the domination of human nature as well. what results is a fusion of power and validity claims which contributes to the power of scientific explanations over all other forms of explanation. not only within science but within culture as a whole. or approach that is used to understand the social. the very methodology. Instrumental rationality is also directly related to the historical development of social domination. In effect. en masse. The culture industry is of particular importance because it is received and consumed relentlessly. but that the subject of society. T (2003) Supra at p. struggle and “what could be” for an explanation of “what is”.25-26 89 . television. as explained earlier. The culture industry therefore disseminates the ideology of capitalism. For Horkheimer and Adorno. Their reified. based upon the principles of instrumental rationality and the capitalist profit incentive. Horkheimer and Adorno maintain that the last remaining sphere of freedom from this pervasive domination. This is demonstrated clearly by the positivist approach to the human sciences which the authors believe should not adopt the fetishized methods and principles of the physical sciences. law-like nature is what Horkheimer and Adorno mean when they argue that “science has become myth”242. newspapers.would mean that the advances of biological science and medicine are themselves wrong). can never study it objectively. observable reality because it only examines the factuality of “what is”. Despite this. pervasive in modern society. The logic of instrumental rationality is therefore. The principles of rationality. For Horkheimer and Adorno. For Horkheimer and Adorno. 242 Dant. It is Horkheimer and Adorno's argument that not only science and the economy display characteristics of instrumental rationality: all areas of life in capitalist society do. validity claims have come to be monopolized by the scientific approach. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that such an approach renounces the ideals of morality.
creating “a new and naked form of 243 Hullot-Kentor. They do not. and continues to do so for Horkheimer and Adorno's critique of culture. resulting in the reproduction of domination. Commodity fetishism and reification conceal the human processes and actions that constitutes the economic and social structures of capitalism. culture conceals the constitutive activity of humans in the same way that the exchange of commodities conceals the process of the production of commodities. For Horkheimer and Adorno. or the laws of the market conceal the constitution of these laws in concrete human activities and relations. the authors argue that humans lack the ability to be properly self-reflexive. fetishism and reification explain the way in which phenomena are objectively experienced in capitalist society. In other words. This human condition is one where the economy rules over all personal relationships. R (1992) Supra at p. as well as how they come to be. and the universal control of commodities extends over the totality of life. where all contradictions disappear along with the possibility of formulating alternatives to the capitalist system of political economy. and cannot. Again. the dominant rationality of capitalism develops into a social reality.The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception The concepts of commodity fetishism and reification explain the way in which capitalism appears to humans.105 90 . In this situation. Marx's analysis of commodity fetishism provides the model for the critique of Lukács' reification. history as domination is a natural history that recreates barbarism243. see that they are being controlled by a totalizing system whose ideological mouthpiece is the culture industry. is what binds individuals to the fate of capitalism and its productive processes. which leads individuals to an understanding of the world that is different to the way that it actually is. This collective activity is constrained and controlled by the reification that Lukács identified. The authors argue accordingly that: The Dialectic of Enlightenment is a process by which the domination of nature results in regression to nature in the form of a society that is a second nature. I believe that the importance of the culture industry lies in how it represents and displays its own version of reality. what is important here is the reification of the social and historical into the natural. For Horkheimer and Adorno. The ossification and subsequent inability to see beyond these appearance forms. which is instrumental in maintaining the ideology of fetishism and reification. Culture thus hides the collective activities of humans beneath its appearance.
and rational ones246”. culture is argued to be the mediator between the individual and broader society. The point was to show that history is a product of the collective agency of humans. It is a concern that is based on the propagation of ideas from one to the many.33 91 .command and obedience244”. the concern of the authors stems from the manipulation of the population of Germany under National Socialism.103 Benhabib. The authors argue that through “countless agencies of mass production and its culture the conventionalized modes of behaviour are impressed upon the individual as the only natural. D & Swindal. In modern capitalism. and continuing to accept. For Horkheimer and Adorno.110 quote taken from Held.103 Horkheimer. In particular. J (2004) Supra at p. results in a reified consciousness which perceives capitalism as “the best we can hope for”. the psychic development of the individual and transformations in the realm of culture 247”. and that nothing is outside its reach. attempt to demystify the historicization of the natural by analyzing the movement of history differently. T (2003) Supra at p. Commodities are instrumental in creating and maintaining conditions of domination. The culture industry thus conditions the individual into accepting. Horkheimer and Adorno on the other hand. into a type of domination that strives to increasingly manipulate nature by internalizing and controlling it. Horkheimer and the Frankfurt school intended to explore “the interconnection between the economic life of society. conditions of exploitation and domination. R (1992) Supra at p. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment. Amongst other things. commodities lose all their economic qualities except for fetishism. the culture industry contributes immensely to this process of socialization. Capitalism becomes all embracing. which have only become more advanced and pervasive with the development of the culture industry. The authors intention is to reveal the mechanisms at work that come to construct the present condition of domination in society (the focus of the sections preceding this one). and the “naturalization” of the political economy. M & Adorno. D (1980) Supra at p. S (2004) Supra in Rasmussen. radio and film could be used to broadcast ideas to a number of people never before thought 244 245 246 247 Hullot-Kentor. Marx and Lukács sought to demystify the naturalization of the historical by showing the human relations that constitute economic and social institutions245. Horkheimer and Adorno agree entirely with Marx and Lukács that the commodity is pervasive in industrialized society. respectable. which Horkheimer and Adorno describe as extending “its arthritic influence over all aspects of social life”. This statement is again similar to Lukács' argument that reification. T (1997) Supra at p. and in turn models experiences and perceptions from the classroom to the trade union.28 Dant. The oft repeated word “totalizing” in Dialectic of Enlightenment refers directly to the totality of domination. For Horkheimer and Adorno. I will explain how it does this as this chapter unfolds. domination has evolved since the work of Marx and Lukács: it has changed from a quasi-natural phenomenon which denies its own historicity. and can thus be changed (in principle).
the globe248. Critical and artistic forms of culture are thus drowned out by the continual bombardment of the inane. T (1991) at p. For Horkheimer and Adorno.110 92 . is instead another form of domination based on the same principles. the culture industry fetishizes its ideas and and presents them as things in the same way that the alienating production process fetishizes commodities which appear as things: “As with commodity production in general. T (2003) Supra at p. It is this possibility of mass cultural dissemination. Horkheimer and Adorno's argument however. that Horkheimer and Adorno find so alarming. In brief. The culture industry is Horkheimer and Adorno's answer to why social change has not occurred in any effective and substantive 248 249 Dant. Humans thus come to fetishize the cultural product and give it value that it does not have in itself. The cultural commodity remains the only retreat from the mundane and repressive labour process. the new medium could also be used to encourage the consumption of identical cultural goods. humans look to the consumption of cultural commodities to salvage any sense of happiness in life. controlled by a relatively small amount of people. For Horkheimer and Adorno. For Horkheimer and Adorno. which accounts for its popularity and influence. The technology of the new forms of mass communication meant that a relatively small production process. Instead. bland and repetitive cultural commodities. creating specific cultural and economic value in intangible commodities such as the entertainment value of a film or the artistic value of a painting249”. What humans perceive to be an escape from the pains of the labour process. the power of the cultural commodity is immense. and indeed. The culture industry achieves this “dumbing down” of the populace by overshadowing the potential of art to provoke critical thought. Powers and value are attached and attributed to the products of the culture industry in the same way as commodities are fetishized in the realm of exchange value. It is this insight that contributes extensively to our understanding of conditions of domination. For Horkheimer and Adorno. In other words. even if potential consumers lived different lives in different corners of the country.possible. The culture industry accounts for the continuing acceptance of this situation by the oppressed who are kept in a state of bemused depression by the products of the culture industry.110 Adorno. is that culture has become an extension of the work process itself. modern culture reflects the values and principles of capitalism. we have discovered “what it does”. the social form fetishizes cultural products.33-35 in Dant. could reach a large amount of people. the industry engages in the mass production of idiotic. T (2003) Supra at p. This is the functional importance of the culture industry: it maintains the inequalities and injustices of capitalism. combined with the fact that the culture industry aims principally to pacify and “dumb down” mass society.
This however. how is this possible with such apparent opposites? The authors substantiate their position by arguing from a systemic perspective. M & Adorno. and at times repetitive. “are one in their enthusiastic obedience to the rhythm of the iron system254”. Their critique is thus a metacritique that examines how the apparent choice and freedom that we consider to be the pillars of Western civilization.way. 3) the repression of dissidence and rebellion. or Labour and the Conservatives. S.120 Horkheimer. T (1997) Supra at p. Surely the sheer quantity of different publications and films catering for different tastes. Again. This is largely due to the nature of the work in Dialectic of Enlightenment.120 Horkheimer. For clarity's. Horkheimer and Adorno see producers and consumers who exercise a specious freedom which acts to reproduce and ratify the status quo. radio and magazines thus constitute a system “which is uniform as a whole and in every part253”. T (1997) Supra at p.80 Horkheimer. films. This accounts for the unsystematic content of each chapter. and why it has proved difficult to extract separate and defined threads of argument from the chapter on the culture industry. The authors break the mechanisms of cultural domination down into the following categories250: 1) the loss of true individuality and freedom. such as the Democrats and the Republicans.E (1994) Supra at p. sake I will establish these mechanisms here and explain them in detail below.120 93 . The rest of this section will address this issue in detail by identifying the various ways in which domination is extended and maintained. individuality is lost because of the mass production of culture. At this point it becomes important to establish exactly “how it does this”. seems counter-intuitive. Where the democratic citizen sees freedom of choice and equality. It will also become apparent that the content of each category is largely overlapping. M & Adorno. 1) Mass Production and the Loss of True Individuality and Freedom Horkheimer maintained that the idea of true individual freedom was inimical to the specific form of bureaucratic domination that existed within the era of advanced industrial capitalism 251. Despite this. so long as each category is placed within its broader context: as an explanation of how the culture industry prolongs and perfects the conditions of capitalist domination. For Horkheimer and Adorno. T (1997) Supra at p. I believe that a slightly refined argument is possible. mass produced cultural commodities. For Horkheimer and Adorno. They argue that even the appearance of choice and the apparent political opposites. and 4) the debasement of art by entertainment. This uniform culture is the product of the modern system of mass media. society is a 250 251 252 253 254 These categories by no means provide an inclusive list of all the issues covered by Horkheimer and Adorno in their essay “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”. lifestyles and interests proves otherwise? Horkheimer and Adorno extend this critique to the Western pluralist democratic system. 2) the prescription of normative frameworks. M & Adorno. Individuality today can only be expressed through the consumption of standardized. which was in fact a transcription of a series of conversations between Horkheimer and Adorno. are in fact a subtle and advanced forms of domination. In modern capitalist society however. this modern form of commodified culture “impresses the same stamp upon everything252”. Bronner.
and it is this universal “desire” for “things” that is essentially the same. For instance. It can however. However. It is important to note that the forms of mass culture are identical in their systemic function as. freedom of choice and individuality. Horkheimer and Adorno thus argue that one of the main purposes of the culture industry is to constrain thought and action. pleasure and identity. This framework is that of reified capitalism. the ability to choose different things does not constitute freedom. make them want different things. depend not so much on subject matter as on classifying. it is obvious to state that there is a difference between a publication concentrating on cars and a publication aimed towards women and the beauty industry.collective of individuals that are drawn together into the center of a system in search of work. as multitudinous as they appear to be. individualism in capitalist society is an illusion.123 94 . Its influence is exercised through the medium of entertainment and leisure. In reality. is thus the universal maxim. For Horkheimer and Adorno however. opposed to their individual. Their similarity however. are still choices that fit neatly into a particular framework. and how it creates the boundaries of choice and action. these constraints are not subject to critical reflection because the culture industry portrays itself as a proponent of liberalism and freedom of choice (it apparently provides an array of alternatives which are 255 Horkheimer. The culture industry is based upon the ideals of liberalism. M & Adorno. The freedom that it provides is the freedom to work and live within its parameters. and it is the culture industry which provides the means to satisfy these wants. The most important thing to note however. But the industry and its relation to individuals is not yet dictatorial in the sense that it can make an entire populace want the same individual thing. physical. The desire to consume. or apparent differences. the authors believe that liberalism and individuality cannot exist substantively because of the rigid principles of the culture industry. and labeling consumers. is that all the choices that the system offers. Something is provided for all so that none may escape: the distinctions are emphasized and extended255”. or of stories in magazines in different price ranges. organizing. in fact. There is. It is important to remember that the culture industry remains the entertainment business. arises from the fact that both prescribe and condone lifestyles based upon the consumption of commodities in order to a sense of pseudo-individuality: “Marked differentiations such as those of A and B films. T (1997) Supra at p. no distinction between the particular (the desires and tastes if the individual) and the general (the culture industry which caters for these desires) because all mass culture is fundamentally identical. At the same time however.
Otherwise. They contend that even though differences exist. However. an accent. clubs. the liberalism and freedom of choice that the culture industry offers is only pseudo-individualism – individualism within strict parameters. M & Adorno. professional associations and other such concerns.148 Horkheimer. for instance. T (1997) Supra at p. Only pseudo-individuality remains. which constitute the most sensitive instrument of social control. that the culture industry offers a variety of forms of entertainment. Individuality is lost as soon as one embraces and identifies with the ideology of capitalism and the culture industry. Anyone who wants to avoid ruin must see that he is not found wanting when weighed in the scales of this apparatus. T (1997) Supra at p. and no particular form of thought could arise from it. It might seem strange to the reader that thought could be constrained by the culture industry. M & Adorno. T (1997) Supra at p. at first glance.148 Horkheimer. M & Adorno. It has already been argued that the culture industry is totalizing. What we perceive as difference. Horkheimer and Adorno argue otherwise. both of capitalist production. The constant and monotonous production and reproduction of the industry itself serves to confirm the immutability of current circumstances. a hairstyle or a type of dress. Instead everyone is enclosed at an early age in a system of churches. proves to be the goal of liberalism256”. and of the culture industry. this freedom of choice is systemically fettered because of the process of socialization. he will lag behind in life and finally perish260.131 Horkheimer. is a type of pseudo-individualism that simply provides for a multitude of variations which do not detract from the 256 257 258 259 260 Horkheimer. the fundamental principles. T (1997) Supra at p. This is what Horkheimer and Adorno mean when they state that “[t]he culture industry. T (1997) Supra at p. M & Adorno.149 Horkheimer.150 95 . It appears. M & Adorno. The way that the culture industry involves everyone is through the guarantee of freedom of choice. For Horkheimer and Adorno. The authors describe this situation as one where No one is officially responsible for what he thinks. The differences between individuals are based upon peculiarities which become commodified.based on the various desires and tastes of self-determining individuals). messages and norms remain constant in all forms of cultural commodities. Horkheimer and Adorno go on to say that “the bread which the culture industry offers is the stone of the stereotype258”. One of the most important mechanisms of repression that result in the “dumbing down” of the populace is “monotony”: “Anyone who doubts the power of monotony is a fool257”. with the difference between people being so small that it becomes obsolete. the most rigid of all styles. and the authors push this point further by stating that “this hollow ideology is in deadly earnest: everyone is provided for259”.
effort to imitate. For Horkheimer and Adorno. more silent. faithfully reproducing the phenomenon whose opaqueness blocks any insight and installs the ubiquitous and intact phenomenon as ideal. it becomes clear that.147 96 .central uniformity of the individual. prescribes norms of behaviour. in its portrayal of human events (in film for instance). faced with alienating. If we think about the relationship between individualism and conformity. and thus the irrefutable prophet of the prevailing order. T (1997) Supra at p. The most important effect that the culture industry has is the mass conformity of behaviour and thought. Ideology is split into the photograph of stubborn life and the naked lie about its meaning – which is not expressed but suggested and yet drummed in262. and is greatly influenced and determined by the culture industry. It skilfully steers a winding course between the cliffs of demonstrable misinformation and manifest truth. alluded to in the above section. taste). The mechanism. but this difference is only measured in fractions of millimeters.156 Horkheimer. The choice within the framework of consumer capitalism does not mean that everybody freely expresses a differing and divergent sense of identity. one of the most important effects of the culture industry is the prescription of normative behavioural frameworks which come to inform and define how humans react to society and each other: The culture industry tends to make itself the embodiment of authoritative pronouncements. Conformity is the basis of advanced capitalism. Horkheimer and Adorno describe this situation using the metaphor of mass produced Yale locks: each lock must remain different (for argument's sake). But by providing the illusion of difference in the insignificant (appearance. function and overall appearance of the lock is uniform. 261 262 Horkheimer. the quest for individualism is shallow because it has been replaced by a larger. T (1997) Supra at p. the popularity of the hero models comes partly from a secret satisfaction that the effort to achieve individuation has at last been replaced by the effort to imitate. Conformity is thus the underlying process that dominates the actions and behaviour of the subject. 2) The Prescription of Normative Frameworks For Horkheimer and Adorno. for Horkheimer and Adorno. M & Adorno. or what is “expected” of the ordinary individual. The culture industry. M & Adorno. the underlying conformity and oppression of capitalist society can continue unchallenged. manner. which is admittedly more breathless261”. the desire for individuation is subsumed by a larger act of conformity: “On the faces of private individuals and movie heroes put together according to the patterns on magazine covers vanishes a pretense in which no one now believes.
calculability. the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. and are therefore created according to capitalist principles. Horkheimer and Adorno believe that the culture industry has been so successful in this regard. capitalist production is driven by rationality. that the dominated have come to wholly embrace their position of unhappiness and servitude: As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves. Immovably. But what are these capitalist principles that underpin the production of all cultural commodities? In short. The individual's leisure time is confined to an acceptance of what the culture industry offers her. An example of a rudimentary formula is that of simplicity: The content of the various commodities is simplified in order to maximize predictability and acceptance by the public.127 97 . The authors argue that the persistent commodification of the culture industry has become instrumental in shaping humankind's behaviour outside of work. television and publications. previously viewed as an area of life in which humankind could express creativity outside the fetters of the oppressive work process. The culture industry does this by disseminating the same underlying messages to a vast number of people through the media of radio. Horkheimer and Adorno maintain that.134 Horkheimer. has become confined to the offerings of the culture industry. T (1997) Supra at p. efficiency and profit. As I have argued above. T (1997) Supra at p. Leisure time. formulas are aimed at encouraging as little imagination and critical thought as possible in order to maximize profit margins. For Horkheimer and Adorno. predictability. M & Adorno. they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them263. For Horkheimer and Adorno. Individuals become conditioned by the normative representations of the products of the culture industry. the productive process must be as efficient as possible. The problem however. Formulas allow the financiers and backers of the culture industry to determine the success of a production to a large degree.oppressive social reality. the culture industry utilizes the same techniques and methods as propaganda to drum in the social reality of capitalism. which is foisted upon the consumer with cyclic regularity. which humankind come to take for granted. the subject of mass culture is passive: she is absorbed by the world which is created for her and “no scope is left for the imagination264”. M & Adorno. In order to earn as much profit as possible. in order to guarantee favourable profit margins. is that cultural commodities are products of the capitalist productive process. film. capitalists have come to utilize certain formulas and techniques that can be seen in the commodity itself. This simplification follows a tested pattern. 263 264 Horkheimer. the finished product must be consumed by as many people as possible. Most importantly.
presented as entertainment. the culture industry produces goods which tell stories on how to orientate one's self within capitalist society. articles. For the authors. These stories. These normative lessons are however. The culture industry uses sex. does this is by approaching its cultural product formulaically. movies etc. follow the same productive logic. the use of violence in movies becomes a lesson that: . production is reduced to a set of systematic. and how they entail lessons and principles that individuals should live their lives by. fun and laughter as formulas for creating the illusion of enjoyment. One of the ways that popular music. It is not the type of music in itself that is bad or repressive.. or jazz music for that matter. it is the fact that it is a form of commodified art that reflects and propagates the logic and structure of capitalism. radio and television industries can be applied in the same way to the popular music industry. that Adorno did not like jazz music at all. takes the form of a threat. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment Adorno argues that the formulaic approach of the film. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that the production of cultural commodities.. The reader must be careful when reading the Dialectic of Enlightenment to not experience it as a work in cultural elitism. standardization. Donald Duck in the cartoons and the unfortunate in real life get their thrashing so that the audience can learn to take their own punishment265 Violence therefore.Horkheimer and Adorno argue that. such as a jazz song. an escape from social reality. over and above the use of repetitive and rudimentary formulas. It very well might be. popular music and jazz music become different expressions 265 Horkheimer. demonstrate how individuals should deal with misery and oppression in modern society. but he saw the need to criticize jazz and popular music on grounds other than taste. But the repeated exposure of these formulas inevitably acts to devalue and strip them of their content. the breaking down of all individual resistance. violence. For the authors. T (1997) Supra at p. Adorno in particular criticizes the popular music industry and argues that “hit songs” and “jazz music” are products of the culture industry. and probably is correct to say. thus working to dumb-down the audience through mass production.138. it is a threat to those who deviate from the expected behavioural norms. is the condition of life in this society. Love is downgraded to over-dramatized romance. formulaic steps that produce qualitatively similar commodities. 139. and therefore. actively works to maintain domination and alienation. and violence between the characters on screen becomes a form of violence against the spectator. He was a classically trained composer and musical critic. In the factory.continuous friction. 140 98 . The following point made by Horkheimer and Adorno refers directly to the normative influences of the culture industry. M & Adorno. simplicity and repetition.
They are images of totalitarian control.W. (2000) Supra at p.W. The rigid structure of jazz music is indicative of all the products of the culture industry. unchanging. For Horkheimer and Adorno. T Supra at p. what is wrong with jazz. The underlying elements that remain largely unchanged are things like beat and tone.146 99 .113 Witkin. R. jazz is drained of all dialectical relations. 305 in Dant. are instead strung out beside one another: a juxtaposing of co-incidentals. and other cultural commodities. the larger social relations that exist in capitalist society. syncopation and displacement. The principle of “structuration” is thus present in jazz. It is thus clear that for Adorno. R. is what is wrong with all cultural commodities. authoritarianism thus appear in the inner elements among jazz compositions268. Collective oppression. and 266 267 268 Adorno. For Adorno. massification. For the complicated in popular music never functions as 'itself' but only as a disguise or embellishment behind which the scheme can always be perceived266.1 at p. No. Jazz is instead based upon a structured strand of individual performances that are essentially formulaic (main riff – solo – main riff – solo – etc). The formula of popular music is also meant to keep the audience in their situation of passivity.. or parts of a jazz song. these constants are masked by things such as vibrato. The musical elements that would usually develop out of eachother sequentially. in its inner relations. jazz music does not divert from an underlying rhythm and structure: In jazz there is thus “an overlaying of superficial change upon underlying musical elements that are repeated more or less unaltered267”..of these underlying formulas. the structure underlying the piece is abstract. In hit music. For Adorno.146 Witkin. Jazz for Adorno is thus rigid.. In other words. cultural commodities are bound up with the principles and logic of mass production and instrumental rationality. T (1990) at p.. or formula of the song. and all other cultural commodities thus reflect. Adorno's contempt towards jazz can be seen as a case in point of what both Horkheimer and Adorno view as the impoverishing effects of all cultural commodities. For Adorno. this principle also applies to the social where the repetition of the acts of individual agents reproduce the structure of society. (2000) “Why did Adorno Hate Jazz” in Sociological Theory Vol. Jazz music. they do not need to actively listen and engage with the various parts of the music because it is mass produced. . reproduces the rigid structure.18. existing independent of the specific course of the music. or non-dialectical. each bearing a necessary relationship to its antecedent or consequent. Structuration means that the repetition of the individual acts.
The formulaic approach to music. the listener. instead of the other way around. It has been established that the meticulous representation of the world by the culture industry elevates the disagreeable conditions of existence to a “given”. For Horkheimer and Adorno this condition is demonstrated by: The way in which a girl accepts and keeps the obligatory date. Horkheimer. thus feels “on safe ground” when faced with “cutting edge” popular music. constrains and limits music's potential as a work of art269. Whatever the camera reproduces thus shapes our understanding 269 270 Dant. The culture industry is normative. the formulaic approach of the culture industry “dumbs down” mass society by inhibiting the individual's critical capacity to think beyond these formulas. in any form. The authors argue that the continued repetition of these formulas and conventions result in them becoming behavioural norms (for example. the appearance forms of capitalism become facts. emancipatory music does exist. T (2003) Supra at p. and the cultural commodity becomes affirmative of the conditions of life in capitalism.113 Popular music for Adorno clearly does not allow for critical reflection. is that it is caused by humans conforming to the model of the culture industry. The reality of this reflection however. or “second nature”. the choice of words in conversation. similar (even in emotions) to the model served up by the culture industry. humankind come to adopt the behavioural characteristics that are represented as “the norm” by the culture industry. and which could be potentially emancipatory. it becomes an apparent reflection of normal human life and behaviour. In other words. critical thought. It is also important to note that. By portraying the world.167 100 . instead of critical of them. For Adorno. In the case of music. it formed a part of the jazz standard. For Adorno. and through repetition. For Horkheimer and Adorno. the romantic comedy prescribes a set of roles and behaviours that become the nature of romantic relations in real life).intended to cater for the lowest common denominator. and the whole inner life as classified by the now somewhat devalued depth psychology. This implies that there is another type of music that encourages critical reflection. even the improvised jazz solo was not aimed at disrupting a smooth listening experience because ultimately. packaged to be unchallenging and uncritical. subconsciously responding to mass produced. The most intimate reactions of human beings have been so thoroughly reified that the idea of anything specific to themselves now persists only as an utterly abstract notion: personality scarcely signifies anything more than shining white teeth and freedom from body odor and emotions270. All disturbing content is removed. the inflection on the telephone or in the most intimate situation. but his analysis of what constitutes emancipation is tied up with the theory of negative dialectics. Mass produced cultural commodities are therefore. bear witness to man's attempt to make himself a proficient apparatus. it atrophies the faculty of reflexive. through the formulaic and repetitive approach to entertainment. T (1997) Supra at p. M & Adorno. familiar song formulas.
g. if only he will capitulate fully and sacrifice his claim to happiness 273”. but of defenselessness and the capacity to survive one's own ruin in the face of an oppressive force.153 Horkheimer. the concept of tragedy demonstrates how forms of contentious thought. of one's nothingness. freedom and true happiness: “everyone can be happy. or “expected”. the culture industry becomes normative and provides behavioural guidelines for its subjects. By doing this. It shows the condition under which this merciless life can be lived at all271. demoralized by their life under the pressure of the system. it contextualizes and tells a story of it. In this process humans renounce their claim to equality. or as Horkheimer and Adorno put it: “This liquidation of tragedy confirms the abolition of the 271 272 273 274 Horkheimer. Horkheimer and Adorno turn to the concept of tragedy. M & Adorno. “one can go on living”272. M & Adorno. The culture industry explains how individuals come to embrace social conditions which dominate them. F Gotzendammerung. It also prescribes.152 Horkheimer. or the miseries of life under capitalism: The masses. that intend to challenge the normative frameworks and values of capitalist society (part of the old liberalbourgeois culture). are to be kept in order by the sight of an inexorable life and exemplary behaviour. which is shared with society as a whole. Werke. it represented “the bravery and freedom of emotion before a powerful enemy.and perception of the world around us. tragedy used to glorify the opposition of the individual. T (1997) Supra at p. M & Adorno. The culture industry is normative because it forces upon its mass audience a type of human existence and behaviour that is idealized. The culture industry is thus a clear instrument and broadcaster of ideology. have become debased and meaningless. films represent the “permanently desperate situations” which are endemic to oppressed existence. films) to show that. This signifies the abolition of the self-assertiveness of the individual. an exalted affliction. For Horkheimer and Adorno. T (1997) Supra at p. and demonstrates the most efficient forms of existence that deal with the “difficulties of life”. The new concept of tragedy is not based on defiance. and who show signs of civilization only in modes of behaviour which have been forced upon them and through which fury and recalcitrance show everywhere. T (1997) Supra at p. It is the function of cultural commodities (e. In the past. a dreadful problem274”. it propagates the ideology of defeatism.136 in Horkheimer. For Horkheimer and Adorno. in such circumstances. T (1997) Supra at p.153 Nietzsche. Culture has always played its part in taming the revolutionary and barbaric instincts. VIII at p. M & Adorno. Industrial culture adds its contribution. In order to substantiate their claim that the culture industry develops and nurtures normative models of behaviour.154 101 . Vol. Tragedy no longer typifies meaningful opposition in contemporary society.
275 276 277 278 279 280 281 Horkheimer. The culture industry thus assigns tragedy a fixed place in the routine. T (1997) Supra at p. which for capitalism as a whole. The masses for Horkheimer and Adorno thus “only show signs of civilization in modes of behaviour which have been forced upon them280”. happen to those who do not cooperate with capitalism: “Tragic fate becomes just punishment278”. Tragedy is dealt with by carefully constructing it as a calculated and accepted aspect of the world. T (1997) Supra at p. The culture industry does not hide from this reality and instead “takes great pride in looking it in the face like a man276”. M & Adorno. that the culture industry turns the tragedy of the destitute into an inevitability. M & Adorno. This pacifism is a direct result of the perception of the world as an inexorable. society vicariously admits to the suffering which it has created.152 Horkheimer. The authors argue that by empathizing. M & Adorno. only to recognize defeat and one is one with it all281”.151-152 Horkheimer. At the same time however. This ideological manipulation of human tragedy into “a necessary suffering” is what Horkheimer and Adorno describe as “a blessing for capitalism”279. The culture industry in effect propagates culture that tames the revolutionary potential within humans. M & Adorno. “those permanently desperate situations which crush the spectator in ordinary life somehow become a promise that one can go on living. T (1997) Supra at p. The most significant mode of behaviour that is forced upon the masses (through representation by the culture industry) is pacifism. T (1997) Supra at p. Culture prescribes the manner in which we are supposed to live if we are to deal with the merciless conditions of capitalism. The culture industry in this sense. T (1997) Supra at p. the authors argue. reified whole. the adoption of tragedy by the culture industry fosters a perception of tragedy as an inevitable and uncontrollable part of society. foisting them upon the demoralized masses.151 Horkheimer. poverty).152 Horkheimer. Tragedy will.153 102 . T (1997) Supra at p. For Horkheimer and Adorno. and does. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that the culture industry uses the concept of tragedy to prescribe how society should “go on with their lives”.151 Horkheimer. is a blessing. despite the pervasiveness of human tragedy (for example. One has only to become aware of one's own nothingness. In films. T (1997) Supra at p. Horkheimer and Adorno believe however. It creates the impression that society does not completely ignore the reality of destitution. The tragic film also acts to prescribe a set of morals. demonstrates the behavioural norms that are required in the face of tragedy. M & Adorno.154 Horkheimer.individual275”. M & Adorno. M & Adorno. Mass culture deals with the tragedy of the destitute directly “in the same way as centralized society does not abolish the suffering of its members but records and plans it 277”. the approach of the culture industry is no shrink from tragedy at all.
A (1864) De la Democracie en Amerique. M & Adorno.103 103 . Everyone must show that he wholly identifies himself with the power which is belabouring him282”. J (2004) Supra at p. He says: You are free not to think as I do. which would require one to adopt a lifestyle outside civilization and makes use of none of its channels. 282 283 284 Horkheimer. the culture industry is instrumental in constructing the most subtle forms of domination that are disguised beneath a veil of liberalism and pseudo-individualism. oblivion and pseudo-happiness284”. this is by no means a free choice at all. the culture industry has become so advanced and accommodating that it is able to reformulate rebellion against this suppression into new forms of exploitation and manipulation.The requirement of affirmative living means that humans come to embrace their domination wholly: “Life in late capitalism is one long initiation rite. 3) The Repression of Dissidence and Rebellion As I have argued above. everyone may find acceptance within this omnipotent society. The ruler no longer says: You must think as I do or die. this is what is promised). It would entail a withdrawal from all areas of capitalism.153 De Tocqueville. your property. S (2004) Supra in Rasmussen. The fetishized cultural commodity utilizes the revolt of suppressed nature to further mystify the forms of exploitation of both internal and external nature. have this in common: “they manipulate the revolt of repressed nature into submission. The choice is basically whether to give into domination or perish. in modern capitalist society: tyranny leaves the body free and directs its attack at the soul. This seductive exploitation of repressed nature by the mass media and the culture industry. everything shall remain yours. In many ways. What this process truly entails is a capitulation on behalf of the individual and a sacrifice of her claim to true happiness. If this is embraced. your life. Vol II (Paris 1864) at p. and subscribe to its ideology. everyone can be “happy” (or at least. T (1997) Supra at p. organic and unsuppressed. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that. M & Adorno. As Marx argued many years before Horkheimer and Adorno. The choice is thus either to orientate oneself within the parameters of the system.151 in Horkheimer.133 Benhabib. T (1997) Supra at p. or become “left behind” (destitute). along with the nostalgia for the natural. but from this day on you are a stranger among us283. D & Swindal. Horkheimer and Adorno continue by arguing that a true form of dissidence or non-conformity would mean being rendered powerless economically and spiritually.
for instance a new idea in business287. does not subscribe to the principles of instrumental reason.63 Horkheimer. True art thus imagines that which is different. should have no ends in sight. liberating form. For Horkheimer and Adorno then.Horkheimer and Adorno noticed that this is not simply a process of co-optation. Critical substantive content is lost because media must make use of the circuitry of the culture industry if it is to reach people. M & Adorno. This is art in its true. and its effect on “mass-society”. It is a form of culture that does not subject its products to the 285 286 287 288 289 Gunster. art that is made without purpose. “Anyone who resists can only survive by fitting in286”. Dissidence is thus quickly reconciled in capitalism by the culture industry. Horkheimer and Adorno strive to establish that art. the culture industry also disarms its enemies of their threatening content285. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that mimesis is a process of incorporating the threatening “other” into the self. Criticism is thus a tool of the culture industry. Over and above co-option. 4) The Debasement of Art by Entertainment In their excursus on the culture industry.145 Dant. The culture industry thus acts as primitive humankind did when performing a mimetic ritual. other than the intention of inspiring others “to transcend the earthly limits of experience. affirmative content. Practical. S (2000) “Revisiting the Culture Industry Thesis: Mass Culture and the Commodity Form” in Cultural Critique No. True art. any legitimate skepticism is reorientated within the culture industry's channels. M & Adorno. as a manifestation of culture.132 Horkheimer. This also gives the illusion of the culture industry as a pluralist institution. entailing critical. T (1997) Supra at p. the audience comes to resist taken-for-granted. as well as. becomes devoid of any critical. without the intention of it being used to entertain as many people as possible. T (1997) Supra at p. M & Adorno. The culture industry thus silences dissidence and deviation. or reified reality. any form of dissidence or rebellion against the culture industry is always confined to a feeble resistance which that very industry has fashioned. utopian content.113 104 . and through perceiving this. If we are to fully understand why the degeneration of art is of such importance to Adorno and Horkheimer. it becomes owned and prone to manipulation. we must briefly look at the way they view '”true art”. For the authors.45 at p. to imagine the freedom of an alternative and to engage in critical praxis with the world around them289”. thus takes the form of new ideas within the framework of capitalism. and is by no means a threat to it at all288. or realistic dissidence. T (1997) Supra at p.132 Horkheimer. T (2003) Supra at p. By taking the enemies into itself. Once a particular brand of deviation from the norm has been noted by the industry. when commodified and fused with entertainment.
by shifting towards a meta-critique of ideological critique (i. The point is to provide an internal critique of Horkheimer and Adorno's project by seeing if they “dig themselves into a theoretical hole”. that art renounces its own autonomy and proudly takes its place among consumption goods constitutes the charm of novelty291”. It thus reflects the contradictions of life in capitalist society. T (1997) Supra at p. art is modern society's antithesis. but that today it deliberately admits that it is one. by becoming something that provides entertainment etc. purposeless nature: “The work of art. T (1997) Supra at p. M & Adorno.142 105 . In other words. totalizing approach to the explanation of domination. it retains its true value290. including their own. In the realm of entertainment and amusement. Under these conditions art becomes another commodity devoid of any critical content. T (2003) Supra at p. Art as a commodity becomes a form of entertainment and amusement.logic of the market. an industry based upon the framework of its established parent: industrial capitalism293. but for its value as a a commodity. the culture industry is an industry that uses the same mass production techniques as factories and other advanced industries. instead of the cultural critique provided in the section above. At this point we must return to the overall project of Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment. it becomes apparent that the authors negate all types of critique in general. They thus cannot transcend the limits impinged by their own critique. a category that is at odds with its useless. in other words. 290 291 292 293 294 Dant. Amusement is the complete opposite of true art. deceitfully deprives men of that liberation from the principle of utility which it should inaugurate292”.110 Horkheimer. It is reflexive of the divide between subject and object.158 Dant. the possibility of this negation “does glimmer for a few moments.157 Horkheimer. M & Adorno. the critique of instrumental reason). and in this way. T (2003) Supra at p.e. The more it represents these divisions. by completely assimilating itself to need. As I have argued above. M & Adorno. T (1997) Supra at p. It is subsumed by the captialist exchange ethic and no longer exists for itself. Art. the more it resembles the seriousness of life. The culture industry is. I will aim specifically here at the theoretical tenets of Dialectic of Enlightenment. True art represents the incompatibility between humanity and the socio-economic conditions of modern society. appearance and essence. becomes something of use. The culture industry thus becomes a projection of the industrial production process because of the penetration of the organization and business practices of industrial capitalism. But of course it cannot happen294”. This process of production has caused a change in the character of the “art commodity”: “What is new is not that it is a commodity.113 Horkheimer. the particular and the general. In this next section I will very briefly consider whether Horkheimer and Adorno's entire project is undermined by their inclusive.
domination and exploitation are the products of a historical process that was set in motion long before the first proletarian was ever exploited by the first capitalist: One might say that the collective madness that ranges today. B. I will now interrogate this position. Horkheimer and Adorno saw people embracing barbaric authoritarian regimes. What solution do Horkheimer and Adorno offer which could remedy this impoverished state of affairs? The answer quite simply is none. In other words. and “free” Western countries. effectively brainwashing large sectors of the population. and other late capitalist superstructural institutions.175 Shaw.Some Critiques of Dialectic of Enlightenment By the end of the 1940's Horkheimer had arrived at a theory of history which negated the possibility of societal change.107 106 . in the first man's calculating contemplation of the world as prey296. S (2004) Supra in Rasmussen.J. In Europe. T (1978) Supra at p. (1985) Supra at p. (1985) Supra at p.176 Benhabib. the totalizing dominance of instrumental reason cannot be reduced to the capitalist system of production.153 in Shaw. from the concentration camps to the seemingly most harmless mass-cultural reactions. J (2004) Supra at p. art and philosophy297. Horkheimer saw the culture industry. humanity (for whom hope always appeared bleak) now seemed beyond redemption: the processes at work in both the East and the West “must necessarily lead to dictatorship and the regression of humanity295”. fascism. Horkheimer tried to understand and explain why the masses had been so susceptible to manipulation in both European fascist countries. emancipation now lies in the unredeemed Utopian promise of culture. In the West. M & Adorno. do they contradict their critique of instrumental reason by continuing to engage in philosophical critique? Earlier in this chapter I made an effort to establish the way in which the work of Horkheimer and Adorno differs from that of Marx and Lukács. were already present in germ in the primitive objectivization.J. For Horkheimer and Adorno. The implication of Horkheimer and Adorno's theory of history is that war. B. human condition. which is why instrumental rationality and the dominating drive of the Enlightenment cannot be overcome through traditional theoretical means. D & Swindal. As I have shown earlier in this chapter. genocide. For both authors. and see if Horkheimer and Adorno's negative dialectical critique is in contradiction with their philosophy of history. I will focus here upon the 295 296 297 Horkheimer. These shifts become important at this stage because they form the basis for the critique of Horkheimer and Adorno's work in Dialectic of Enlightenment. and as the above quotation shows. It is a historical.
For Horkheimer and Adorno. then they must preserve at least one standard for their explanation of the corruption of all reasonable standards. without being sufficiently reflexive to the fact that this position also negates their own theoretical position. the totalizing critique loses its direction300. This “encompassing historico-philosophical perspective” is the totalizing critique of instrumental rationality. J (1982) Supra at p. 299 298 107 . instrumental reason alone can account for the regression of humankind towards barbarism and conditions of reified domination. P (1985) Supra at p. It is the logic of the performative selfcontradiction that Habermas extends to criticise Horkheimer and Adorno's work in Dialectic of Habermas. Habermas calls this philosophical dilemma a “performative self-contradiction”301. A performative selfcontradiction contradicts the conditions of an asserted proposition. J (1983) The Theory of Communicative Action Vol. In its entirety. one asserts one's existence by referring to an existing self. In the face of this paradox. J (1982) Supra at p.28 301 A performative self-contradiction occurs when the propositional content of what the speaker says contradicts the conditions of the asserted proposition itself. By saying that “I do not exist”. paradoxical because.12-13 Habermas. Habermas argues that Horkheimer and Adorno negate the possibility of formulating emancipatory theory. Horkheimer and Adorno find themselves in the same predicament as Nietzsche: if they do not want to give up the goal of an ultimate unmasking and want to carry on their critique.22 300 Habermas. This double generalization of the concept of reification leads to a concept of instrumental reason that shifts the primordial history of subjectivity and the self-formative process of ego-identity into an encompassing historico-philosophical perspective298. This notion is however. and reification in the work of Lukács) to the historically detached critique of instrumental reason.379-380 in Hohendahl. the Dialectic of Enlightenment is an expansive work that argues for the destruction of humankind's capacity of critical thought.shift from ideological critique (appearance and essence in Marxism. Existence is thus a necessary condition for making the statement “I do not exist”. and they generalize it temporally (over the entire history of the human species) and substantively (the same logic of domination is imputed to both cognition in the service of self-preservation and the repression of instinctual nature). 1 at p. in performing this very analysis. the utterance “I do not exist” contradicts the conditions under which such an utterance of self-reflexivity can actually be said. Habermas summarizes this shift succinctly in the following paragraph: Horkheimer and Adorno detach the concept [of reification] not only from the special historical context of the rise of the capitalist economic system but from the dimension of interhuman relations altogether. For instance. it must make use of the same critique that it has problematized: “It denounces the totalitarian development of the Enlightenment with its own means299”.
This is because. she is already asserting universal presuppositions of the validity of argumentative discourse. and instead choose to focus upon the individualistic approach of negative dialectics. Habermas' argument is a derivative of Apel's argument regarding philosophical skepticism. Habermas contends that the approach of negative dialectics may be a theoretical reversal. as soon as the skeptic begins to give reasons for such a belief. It leaves Horkheimer and Adorno in the same place that they believe all theory to be in: “between a rock and no place”. Habermas' argument is that by continuing to engage in critique and theory. For Habermas. dominating and alienating means that all other previous theories rely upon. in critiquing the dominated world. Despite this. If the argument in Dialectic of Enlightenment is carried through to its logical conclusion. The authors instead chose to intensify the contradiction by 302 Hohendahl. This means that the critique of radical skepticism is grounded in the philosophical foundation of the transcendental. Horkheimer and Adorno's theory is therefore just as tainted by the status quo as affirmative. the skeptic necessarily engages in a form of rational criticism that bases itself upon the presupposition of valid forms of argument. Habermas treats Horkheimer and Adorno's work as a work in radical skepticism. Horkheimer and Adorno seem to forget that they are also subject to the same rationalized ontology as the dominated. Horkheimer and Adorno were more than likely aware of this performative contradiction. Horkheimer and Adorno come to rely upon the very instrumental. also reject the enterprise of emancipatory theory. they still engage in critique. Horkheimer and Adorno.Enlightenment. There is thus an implicit claim to the universally accepted valid forms of argument. Horkheimer and Adorno renounce the possibility of engaging in theory at all. Habermas also argues that. Horkheimer and Adorno are in no position to argue that other theories are complicit in domination. In other words. at the same time. Habermas concludes that Horkheimer and Adorno paid a very high price for this radical skeptical turn. but it still relies upon certain presuppositions such as the validity of argument and language. To restate the argument: by saying that ideals and emancipatory theory can no longer be generated (because they simply lead to further domination). a turn that leaves their work in a type of theoretical limbo302. Apel maintains that the logic of a performative self-contradiction can be used against a philosophical skeptic who rejects the possibility of grounding a principle of universalization. pragmatic argument (universality). by arguing from a radical skeptical position. but negative dialectics is not. alienated historical subject. because their skepticism is too far reaching.13 108 . Horkheimer and Adorno simply cannot formulate any theory from their position. He argues that Horkheimer and Adorno reject the possibility of fully understanding the noumenal world. although the issue is not raised at all in Dialectic of Enlightenment. P (1985) Supra at p. emancipatory theory is.
Human beings are driven by the basic principle of self-preservation. As Habermas argues. In trying to understand. Dialectic of Enlightenment can thus be characterized as an account of regression towards a self-imposed catastrophe. This would mean the abandonment of dialectics in favour of a critical project that is formulated in terms of the “linguistic turn”305. without a grounding in any concrete concept of reason.18 Sevilla. Humans fear the unknown. Adorno's philosophy becomes post-rational. 2. “. and the subsequent development of instrumental rationality. 5. 4.59 109 .. S (1997) Supra at p. S (1997) Supra at p. what are their contributions and shortfalls? If we reduce the argument contained in Dialectic of Enlightenment into general terms. or postmodernist. They seek to control it. from the above arguments. On top of this. momentary nature where humans experience “glimpses of the truth”. rationality is discovered in the natural processes. is markedly different because of its individual. But is this an accurate reflection of where Horkheimer and Adorno leave social theory? And if so. and of the critical instance.59 Sevilla. the Dialectic of Enlightenment offers hardly any prospective of escape from the constraints of instrumental rationality303”. Emancipation. for Horkheimer and Adorno. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that such grand visions of emancipation can no longer be entertained because of the intensification of domination. J (1982) Supra at p. leads to the self-dissolution of philosophy understood as a theory of reason 304”. To understand is to control.. we can see that Horkheimer and Adorno rely upon an essentialist explanation of human nature. It is clear. the existence of art that can provide moments of emancipation is becoming increasingly rare. that Habermas believes that Dialectic of Enlightenment argues itself into a self-defeating position because it amounts to the end of reason altogether. from which there is an ever decreasing chance of escape. In the work of Habermas one can find a repertoire of criticisms of Adorno's philosophy that focuses in on one direction: “the absence of a consistent epistemological formulation of reason in general terms. Their denouncement of affirmative dialectics is thus a renouncement of emancipatory theory that has the grand goals of systemic change and class consciousness.developing a critique that was truly totalizing. 303 304 305 Habermas. The authors argue that the culture industry relentlessly commodifies all forms of art that possess emancipatory potential for the individual. it is a threat to their lives. 1. 3. natural world. The implication of this critique is that.
10. arises out of the human fear of unknown nature. Humans. in order to purge it of the unknown. 12. and object. The most tenuous part of Horkheimer and Adorno's theory of history is the link between the domination of nature. Both nature and groups of individuals within society are explained in terms of the general concept of “the Other”. and the domination of the social. independent of social influences. 8. How is controlling nature. In other words. unknown nature. This is what Honneth calls the “argumentative bridge between the philosophical-historical construction and the theory of social domination306”. The instrumental rationality that orders nature is applied universally to the social. A (1991) Supra at p. If we think about the two processes however (dominating nature. Instrumental rationality. Over time. It is also unclear how instrumental rationality universally. 13. because of the fear of the unknown natural world.52 110 . instrumentally control and manipulate those who are in inferior social positions. Horkheimer and Adorno's argument explains domination as a necessary result of human interaction with external. and the development of structures of domination in society. the logic of domination. rational mind strives to control. is the product of the development of the ego. it becomes clear that they are not one and the same thing. The division of labour is reified. Society develops according to this class structure. Rational understanding leads to the instrumental manipulation and control of nature.51-52 Honneth. the nature of both subject. and necessarily. Horkheimer and Adorno's argument can only be plausible if we accept the silent presupposition of a corresponding relation between social domination and the domination of nature307. 11. This development of the ego remains the basis for Horkheimer and Adorno's theory of history. the threat of violence subsides. In light of this criticism. I propose a reversion to the the historical specificity of the structures and ideologies of capitalism. similar to the fear of other humans? This is not properly substantiated in Dialectic of Enlightenment. Culture comes to convince the dominated that their social standing is natural and incontestable. ideological means.6. A (1991) Supra at p. in agreement with Lukács. Horkheimer and Adorno instead project the one process (the domination of nature) onto the other (the domination of the social). Humans extend the desire to control and dominate nature to the social realm. and originally do so by the threat of violence. although it remains largely unsubstantiated. Instrumental rationality. seem to be necessary and inevitable products of our natural human inclinations. and dominating the social). 9. which the instrumental. 7. in positions of privilege (seized by violent means). Inequalities are maintained by more subtle. are 306 307 Honneth.
why they do so. and hence more difficult. “inner workings of capitalism”.E (1994) Of Critical Theory and its Theorists at p. Their analysis of the culture industry has profoundly influenced the discourse surrounding the role of media in society. the epistemology of instrumental rationality becomes a historically conditioned state that develops along side the productive forces. I have discussed what Marx and Lukács believe to be the real. This is theoretically important if we are to uphold the appearance-essence distinction which is fundamental to the concepts of commodity fetishism and reification. and what needed to be done in order to maintain the revolutionary ideal. The work of Horkheimer and Adorno thus all but negates the idea of genuine revolutionary action308. We must therefore.contingently related to the historical process. Both concepts explain how reality appears to humans in such a way that it hides the real relations and processes of economic and social reality. 79 111 . These insights that penetrate the appearance forms. which is capable of providing insights into the economic and social structures of capitalism. I agree with Horkheimer and Adorno that class consciousness and systemic revolution are failed concepts. demonstrated by the Enlightenment and the rise of fascism and capitalism all over the world. must not simply be discarded as “products of an overarching. S. The next chapter will develop and refine Horkheimer and Adorno's theory of culture in order to understand how commodity fetishism. If we revert to the dialectical position of Marx and Lukács. Capitalist epistemology is not the ontological fate of human beings. 308 Bronner. The final chapter approaches the question of domination theory by trying to understand how domination has become more subtle. historical form of instrumental rationality”. This means that. But where does this leave us with regards to the work of Horkheimer and Adorno? I would like to disregard their anthropologic-philosophical argument concerning the development of instrumental rationality and domination. in modern society. Their work however. and why this results in an intensification of domination. needs to be complemented with an inclusive theory that makes use of the concepts of commodity fetishism and reification. Marx and Lukács attempted to explain why this is the case. to overcome. Horkheimer and Adorno subsequently argued that the reason that such ideals failed was because of the nature of reason itself. return to ideological critique. both the nature of agency and domination are products of the historically specific material and social structures of capitalism beneath the false appearance forms. Horkheimer and Adorno have a significant contribution to make concerning the reification of society through the commercialization of culture. The Dialectic of Enlightenment remains a landmark in radical thought. reification and domination are produced by the cultural activities of human beings. and instead focus upon their work concerning culture. which also describes the many ways in which humans practice culture. constructed and maintained by commodity fetishism and reification.
So the problems. There is no systematic.Today. stupid cultural pawns that Horkheimer and Adorno make them out to be? In Dialectic of Enlightenment the authors tend to focus upon the manner in which their arguments are made. The work on the culture industry in Dialectic of Enlightenment takes the form of a series of conclusions that are not properly substantiated. as opposed to the actual content of what they're saying. S (2000) Supra at p. Lukács and the Frankfurt School sought to deliver us from. I intend to focus upon the ways in which individuals construct. waste and environmental destruction are just as prevalent as before (in some cases. entrenching the values of capitalism. and come to be. that Marx. In other words. change remains elusive. war. the reification of the capitalist political economy on a daily basis. whilst nullifying areas of resistance. impervious to change. I also agree with Horkheimer and Adorno that culture has come to the ideological aid of capitalism. passive. poverty. But are people really the impoverished. even more so). and reproduce. are still very much immanent. I will show how the dominated underpriveleged classes have come to embrace their own domination. humanitarian crises. their own domination. I agree with Marx and Lukács that the reification of the capitalist political economy creates conditions that appear. I will focus upon answering the question of how individuals contribute to. These explanations however. 309 Gunster. all focus upon “top down”. focused explanation of the techniques deployed by the culture industry. structuralist explanations of passivity and domination. The authors spend more time lamenting the loss of autonomy than actually explaining the mechanisms at work that suppress autonomy309. In the following chapter I will attempt to identify some of these mechanisms. disaster. Despite these immense problems. through their own social transactions. and how these necessarily lead to cultural impoverishment and domination. reveling in the very practices that result in domination through the practice of competitive consumption. and maintain.41 112 .
knowledge. The concepts of commodity fetishism. I argue differently however. The reader will become aware of the fact that I extend the critique of the culture 113 . and should be. is an act that relies upon class divisions if it is to have any symbolic importance. I will however. There is obviously a huge social dimension to this argument which touches upon psychological issues. but also blurs class divisions. reification and instrumental rationality were developed in circumstances that were different from today.Chapter 4 An Introduction to Bourdieu This final chapter aims to apply all the concepts I have developed and explained so far to today's circumstances. The result of this is the emergence of a large class of people who own and consume similar goods. I will then explain how this developed theory of fetishism contributes to the reified structure of capitalism. In other words. with specific regard to how the commodity form. and their work on the culture industry. I will argue that the role of commodities has. as an expression of identity. this is because modern patterns of consumption are based upon the desire to be distinct from others. Fetishism in this chapter. the desire to be distinct finds expression in the act of consumption. increased in its systemic importance. and it is important to reconsider their validity. This seemingly contradictory argument will require the relation of Bourdieu's theory to the social theory of Horkheimer and Adorno. but also the association of human and social characteristics with commodities such as status. I will look at how Marx's theory of commodity fetishism can. if anything. and its political implications. which in turn results in the desire of individuals to want goods that confer status. amounts to an affirmation of class divisions within society. taste. I also depart from Bourdieu's social theory in arguing that the desire to be distinct extends to all classes. individuality and class. such as social conditioning and identity formation. In developing this argument. extended to accommodate not only the economic fetishism of exchange-value. the commodity has evolved to become one of the most powerful instruments of domination. and its consumption. I argue that the commodity form has become so pervasive that it has become inextricably bound up with the expression of individual identity. is thus a broadened concept that explains how individuals have come to associate their identities with the consumption of commodities. that it is the desire to be distinct from “mass society” that drives modern consumerism. Commodities thus define who we are because they are used to express identity. focus upon the commodity fetish. the consumption of commodities. which reproduces class divisions. insofar as commodity fetishism maintains the domination of the privileged classes over the poor. In modern capitalist society therefore. In other words. I intend to argue that both approaches to culture can contribute to a better understanding of the role of culture and commodity consumption in the reproduction of capitalism. According to Bourdieu.
No.2 (Sept. the margins of legality.. but the desire to flaunt such status – even in instances where remuneration does not allow it (my emphasis). survival-of-the-fittest does inform a great part of society’s morality. and sometimes beyond. such as nutrition. albeit unequally. and individuals and groups ally with one another or act variously 310 Gartman. To generalise: so neighbours compete in conspicuous consumption: poor university students seek other sources of income to keep up with their richer peers. households go into debt to finance unaffordable.. all classes participate in this mass culture and the consumption of aesthetically similar goods. and how this bolsters the current divisions within society. Aside from the question of domination. On the other hand. to the detriment of their welfare. Vol. lifestyles tend to be determined not only by social status. why people are driven to acquire social capital (which confers status) before satisfying basic needs.. The intended result is to show how commodity fetishism should be reinterpreted in broader social terms. such as why even the poor choose to purchase commodities that are aimed at acquiring social status.. 1991) at p. In other words. a broadened conception of commodity fetishism is also capable of explaining apparent anomalies. D (1991) “Culture as Class Symbolization or Mass Reification? A Critique of Bourdieu's Distinction” in The American Journal of Sociology. and its effect upon welfare. As such.426 114 . and the country cannot introduce a low-cost entry level vehicle because everyone prefers some ‘extra’ for comfort and bragging! Rich and poor are impelled by the demands of an individualistic system to operate on. avoiding to pay rates and licenses. our social system is a market based economy which retains most of the features of racial exclusion within which it was constructed. commodity consumption acts to blur class differences to the point that everybody possesses qualitatively similar commodities in different amounts. reifiying the social structure of capitalism. This is because. The effect of this is that the ostensible class differences are leveled by the consumption of standardized commodities. I have included the sections of relevance below: At the same time.97.be it with regard to finding ways to minimise tax payments.industry to the critique of commodity production in general: commodities are thus inextricably bound up with culture. The social dimension to the commodity fetish helps explain why people in all classes of society continue to purchase commodities. I will also argue that in some developed countries. Real qualitative differences in class power take on the appearance of merely quantitative differences in the possession of the same goods310. and succumbing where regulation is weak to the temptation as worker and employer to ‘make it’ by fair means or foul. in wealthy nations. A recent South African Government report highlighted the issue of competitive consumption. In this context.
the concern with lifestyle. individuality and distinction from others. based upon the conceptual pillars of commodity fetishism. clothes. purchase and display of consumer goods and experiences in everyday life cannot be understood merely via conceptions of exchange value and instrumental rational calculation. cars.pdf Featherstone.. clothing. or as the economically marginalized311. rather they can be conceived as a balance which consumer culture brings together. Commodity fetishism thus gives us an insight as to why 311 312 313 Presidency's Policy Coordination and Advisory Services (2006) “A nation in the making: A Discussion Document in macro-Social Trends in South Africa” at p. shoes. In today's society this applies to the purchasing of cell phones. and how this contributes to the overall body of work concerning domination. practices. appearance and bodily dispositions they design together into a lifestyle313.in order to thrive in the market jungle: as owners or producers of wealth.za/otherdocs/2006/socioreport.87-89 http://www. I aim to provide a theoretical account of why the competitive consumption of commodities exists.gov. the new heroes of consumer culture make lifestyle a life project and display their individuality and sense of style in the particularity of the assemblage of goods. M (1991) Consumer Culture and Postmodernism at p. The instrumental and expressive dimensions should not be regarded as exclusive either/or polarities.. through tradition or habit. before satisfying basic needs. the planning. technology and other commodities that visualize and express identity.info. the theory of symbolic power and distinction. as holders of political office or the governed. with the stylization of life. M (1991) Supra at p. and the subsequent production of waste that results from the relentless consumption of commodities. is the issue of the continual use of resources. but proved to be beyond the limits and resources of this thesis. reification and the culture industry. suggests that the practices of consumption. experiences. Instead. This document expresses something that is almost patently obvious. Rather than unreflexively adopting a lifestyle.. that the theory of commodity fetishism and competitive consumption can provide insights into. An empirical study of this would contribute extensively to the theory provided in this chapter.86 Featherstone. contributes to our understanding of the question “why do the dominated many accept the rule of the privileged few?” Another related problem. Individuals will purchase commodities that express symbolic power. This is because consumption activities in late capitalism operate as complex and condensed signifiers that communicate to others – as well as back to the generating consumers themselves – who they are312.83 115 . In other words.
In other words. Lukács' argues that “capitalist culture legitimates exploitative class relations by hiding them behind faćades of nature 314”. political institutions. This occurs in the same way that the commodity appears to have value independent of the processes that produce it. a “thing”. Reification is thus an extension of the concept of fetishism. that I have introduced so far in this thesis.426 116 . For Lukács. which Lukács' applies on a cultural and institutional scale.waste on such a grand scale exists. “Things” such as the market. Reification makes humans the subject of its institutions. both economic and social. reification and instrumental rationality still exist in even more intense forms than they did in the days of Marx. The political implications of reification for Lukács are that the political-economy of capitalism is transformed into something “natural”. Lukács and Horkheimer and Adorno. reification is an ideological mechanism of domination that prevents the dominated proletariat from 314 Gartman. It was Lukács' argument that the concept of fetishism (the attribution of characteristics to things which did not possess such characteristics in and of themselves) could be extended to social and bureaucratic systems that have become “reified”. It is Lukács' contention that reification is based upon the production and reproduction of an ossified socioeconomic system that is characterized by the domination of the working class. D (1991) Supra at p. political and economic structures of capitalism rule over humans. His argument was that the organizational principles and structure of capitalist institutions. and how it contributes to domination. namely the economy and the superstructural enterprises that work alongside the economy. By this I mean bureaucratic institutions such as government and the legal system. reification and instrumental reason. It is also important to relate these concepts to current practices of competitive consumption. bureaucracy and the division of society into classes thus appear to the reified gaze as “second nature”. At this point I would like to focus upon two central pillars of capitalism. I will begin however. with a discussion of the three core concepts. and determine to what extent they contribute to an understanding of why competitive consumption exists. have become “things” that exist independently. My intention is to relate the concepts explained in the previous chapters and show how fetishism. instead of institutions being subject to human thought and behaviour. commodity fetishism. The dominated are unable to see that the system of capitalism is the product of human action. reification and domination. outside of human influence. Commmodity Fetishism. I will start off by explaining the link between commodity fetishism and reification. a reified world is one where the social. or “unquestionable”. Reification and Instrumental Rationality The concept of commodity fetishism is central to my entire argument concerning consumption.
or the capitalist political economy) which do not possess them independently. in the mind of the individual. Commodity fetishism is the belief that goods possess value just as they have weight. For Marx. he uses a religious analogy to substantiate his argument. Commodity fetishism activates objects into value roles which causes people to act as if these objects actually have powers.. The “powers” that commodities have stem from their value which is wrongly attributed to them as independent objects. In the case of reification. and attributes these powers to the institutions themselves. Elster summarizes this argument as follows: “economic fetishism.collectively realizing that capitalist conditions of inequality.. J (1995) Supra at p. This real power however. reification provides the basis for fetishism because it explains how objects are made into 315 316 Torrance. and that humans are capable of changing the object world for their own benefit. that are the true source of value and power. But what about the differences between reification and commodity fetishism? When Marx first introduces the concept of commodity fetishism in Capital I. J (1995) Karl Marx's Theory of Ideas at p. Lukács argues that the subject misrecognizes the source of the power of political. this occurs in the same way with commodities. cause individuals to believe that objects do have magical powers that they appear to have because of a misrecognition of the source of that power. Such objects appear to possess properties such as sacredness autonomously.112 117 . the individual misrecognizes the source of the exchange-value of a commodity and attributes it to the commodity itself. In the case of commodity fetishism. as an inherent property316”. and the purchasing power that an object exerts on the market. For Torrance. For Marx however. In religious fetishism. J (1985) Making Sense of Marx in Torrance. the social relations. Commodity fetishism and reification are conceptually related because they both entail a process of attributing characteristics to things (the products of labour. In both cases. objects such idols possess real social properties such as sacredness. In the case of commodity fetishism however. generally speaking is the tendency to neglect the hidden or implicit relational structure of economic predicates . economic and social institutions. as to the true nature of the objects that the individual perceives. the magical power that an object (such as an idol) exerts is unreal. alienation and exploitation are not ahistorical. In the case of religious fetishism. these social properties and powers are reducible to causal social relations which are responsible for constructing the object. is real. is a fetish because commodities possess value by virtue of human labour. are not recognized.110 Elster. the value of a commodity. When the underlying causal relations for the religious object's existence are hidden. For Torrance. the object is said to be a “fetish”. which is the case in capitalist society315. commodities can possess real powers if everyone acts as if they have them. Commodity fetishism and reification produce a misrecognition. Fetishes therefore.
This is because the culture industry bases its entire enterprise upon the reified. and how this contributes to the reification of capitalist society. exploitation and inequality. and always will be. The difference between Bourdieu and other Frankfurt theorists such as Horkheimer and Adorno is that. been overcome. J (1995) Supra at p. as well as its social characteristics. for Bourdieu. Reification therefore. Bourdieu thus provides us with an important extension of Horkheimer and Adorno's concept of culture. on the other hand. My intention is to apply the concepts of commodity fetishism and reification to the work done on the culture industry by Horkheimer and Adorno. In other words. present in any human society.external “things” or “objects”. can only give rise to false beliefs (fetishism) if the nature of commodities and money. as social embodiments and representations of value determined by the labour process. Economic reification however. in no way. are the collective product of many forms of current social behaviour. When we apply the concept of reification to today's society. Horkheimer and Adorno on Culture: The Contribution of Bourdieu I must now shift from the work done on the concepts of commodity fetishism and reification to the concept and role of culture in capitalist society. mass produced commodity. Commodity fetishism and reification give us important insights into the nature of the culture industry. culture legitimates class by making class divisions visible in a recognizable form. fetishism is the result of reification. the reification of the political economy of capitalism. Horkheimer and Adorno's work on culture however. an “ahistorical phenomenon”. which has. Horkheimer and Adorno. but disagree on the role that culture plays within the reproduction of capitalism and its social conditions. on the other hand. The form of social behaviour I wish to focus upon here is the consumption of commodities. and the culture industry. I will do this by using the work of Bourdieu to explain in detail the mechanism of distinction that drives the culture industry. describes the way in which the consciousness reflects a reified social reality. it becomes clear that it has. I will also be focusing upon how the culture industry reproduces the capitalist social system of alienation. Reification explains the way in which the social structure of capitalism appears to be “a natural expression of the human condition”. Economic reification is a form of objectification that creates the false beliefs of fetishism. Both employ Marx's class analysis of society. is misrecognized317. describes the process of objectification. Fetishism.110-111 118 . argue that late capitalist 317 Torrance. Instead. differs quite fundamentally from the work of Pierre Bourdieu.
culture legitimates and reproduces class structure by obscuring classes altogether, rather than establishing a hierarchy of honour between them. Bourdieu argues that culture displays class differences, but more importantly, misrepresents the origin of these differences as differences in individual worthiness. In reality however, the origin of cultural difference lies in one's “habitus”, or class socialization, which is influenced by one's wealth, upbringing, education, family, etc. By contrast, Frankfurt critical theorists argue that culture performs its ideological function for the class system by preventing the recognition of class differences, even a mistaken one like Bourdieu's. Horkheimer and Adorno's argument concerning the culture industry was that culture makes class unrecognizable by burying class divisions beneath an indistinct, reified mass culture shared by all318. This seems to be an irreconcilable point of contention between Bourdieu and the Frankfurt critical theorists. Both approaches however, provide us with valid insights into the nature of capitalist society. Bourdieu, on the one hand, reveals the indispensable contribution that the consumption of symbolic goods, in the form of commodities, makes to reproducing class domination through legitimation and distinction. The Frankfurt school, on the other hand, apply Lukacs' theory of reification to the cultural realm, arguing that “capitalist culture legitimates exploitative class relations by hiding them behind unifying facades of nature319”. For Horkheimer and Adorno, modern consumer capitalism is defined by the production of cultural goods on a large, concentrated scale. The “culture industry” seeks to mass produce culture for the sole purpose of obtaining profits. As a result, culture becomes a commodity, which means that culture is subordinated to the technological rationality of domination in both the factory and the marketplace. For Horkheimer and Adorno, the culture industry produces art, music and literature as commodities, which means that they become subject to the standardization and homogenization of mass production. In the process, all critical, disturbing and disruptive connotations are eradicated from cultural commodities to make them appealing and palatable to the broadest possible market. It must be remembered that this mass culture is offered to consumers as compensation: a form of substitute satisfaction for the needs denied to them as alienated workers of capitalism. Horkheimer and Adorno maintain that all classes participate in this mass culture. Most importantly, despite the fact that the consumption of cultural commodities occurs unequally, class differences are still leveled by the consumption of aesthetically similar, standardized commodities. This is because the real qualitative differences in class power appear instead as quantitative differences in the possession of the same goods. Differences between cultural commodities provide the individual with a pseudo-individuality to placate the need for real
Gartman, D (1991) Supra at p.426 Gartman, D (1991) Supra at p.423
individuality denied in production. In the end, cultural commodities are only superficially different from one another. In reality, commodities are fundamentally similar “mass products”, made to cater for all 320: “mechanically differentiated products prove to be all alike in the end321”. For Horkheimer and Adorno, acts of consumption therefore, do not correspond to, but conceal class differences because the difference between commodities is artificial. The logic is thus that if we all (mass society) consume similar commodities, there ceases to be a visible difference between the classes. And it is exactly this which the mass producing culture industry seeks to do. If we are all part of a homogenized mass culture, there appears to be no sharp class divisions. Difference is thus made less apparent, or even “invisible”. This social appearance, where everybody participates and consumes the same generic cultural commodities, reifies the social system of capitalism because inequality and class differences are obscured. However, this is only an appearance that the culture industry helps to construct, which hides the real, qualitative social inequalities of capitalism. For Horkheimer and Adorno, the class system is thus reified and legitimated by making real social differences invisible. The real differences here refer to the Marxian concept of contention between classes. It is this point of contention that is made invisible, and instead the divisions within society are presented as divisions between individuals who have either more, or less similar consumer goods than others. Horkheimer and Adorno however, do not properly explain how and why the economic system of production fully determines cultural practices under capitalism. As I argued in the previous chapter, their approach to this problem is rather implicit and functional: The dominating, exploitative system of capitalism requires a cultural system that supports and reproduces it, so it emerges. Horkheimer and Adorno's approach gives us an essentialist account of human development, which results in the development of the culture industry as a functional, ideological mechanism of domination. Horkheimer and Adorno thus give us an historical account of the rise of class and culture that “reads like the unfolding of an essence inherent in capitalism322”. Most importantly, Horkheimer and Adorno's account of culture does not explain the concrete mediating mechanisms that account for the spread of economic reification into the cultural realm323. This is what brings us to the work of Bourdieu, and his theory of class symbolization, which I use alongside the work of Marx, Lukacs, and Horkheimer and Adorno in the hope of better understanding the nature of modern capitalism. At this point we must return to the concept of commodity fetishism in order to explain the relation between class society and commodities. It is also important to develop the concept of commodity fetishism beyond its initial Marxian formulation. I believe that Bourdieu's work on cultural capital should be related to Marx's pioneering work done on commodity fetishism. The concept of objectified cultural capital, which I will
320 321 322 323
Gartman, D (1991) Supra at p.427 Horkheimer, M & Adorno, T (1997) Supra at p.123 Gartman, D (1991) Supra at p.432-437 Gartman, D (1991) Supra at p.437
substantiate later, must be thought of as an extension of the concept of fetishism to other values aside from the economic fetishism of exchange-value. This broader concept of commodity fetishism will allow us to investigate how reification and domination (characterized by the domination of the underprivileged proletariat by the privileged bourgeoisie) is reproduced and maintained by the consumption of objectified cultural capital, or commodities. Commodities and Symbolic Power In this section I will focus upon the argument that commodities have become fetishized over and beyond Marx's original account of economic fetishism. I will argue that commodities, as an expression of culture and difference, have become expressions of tastes or preferences, and that this assertion of taste is a violent assertion of one's class and power which acts as a symbolic form of reification, as well as domination. At the same time however, we must consider this argument within the broader framework of Horkheimer and Adorno's work on the culture industry, which argues that class has become “invisible” in may respects. Bourdieu's work on class symbolization and cultural capital can be balanced with Horkheimer and Adorno's apparently opposing account of culture and the consumption of cultural commodities. This is because Bourdieu is correct in theorizing that commodities are an expression of distinction, as well as an assertion of class superiority. But what he doesn't account for is the fact that it is not only the wealthy bourgeoisie that strive for social distinction through the consumption of “elite” commodities that are associated with “culture” or “taste”. Individuals across class divisions desire distinction which make them feel part of superior groups within society. What this amounts to is a mass appropriation of commodities that signify one's freedom from poverty. In the first world especially, the result is a society that is more or less middle class324, with households and individuals possessing similar kinds of commodities. This, to a lesser degree, occurs in third world countries. Class divisions remain far more stark in the third world. At the same time however, this does not stop the poor from wanting forms of objectified cultural capital which signify freedom from poverty. I argue that the desire for distinction, exercised within the limits of average class income, has resulted in the creation of a broad middle class, which blurs the ostensible distinction between the upper and lower echelons of bourgeois society. I believe that Horkheimer and Adorno are correct in this regard, especially within the context of the first world. As I have pointed out before
The term middle class here refers to the sociological definition of class. Class in this sense refers to the hierarchical division of society along economic and social lines. For instance, occupation, property, income or education. The argument is that the Marxist concept of class, the relation of the individual to the means of production, is obscured by the ownership of commodities that are aesthetically similar. The sociological definition of class is therefore a concept that helps conceal the real conditions of exploitation that exist in capitalist society, beneath the appearance forms of commodity consumption and onwership.
according to the structure of that capital (the relative weight of the different types of capital. drives and explains the growth of the broad middle class. When economic and cultural capital are recognized and legitimated by others. “[symbolic capital is] the form that the various species of capital assume when they are perceived and recognized as legitimate331”.438 http://en.17 122 . pursue strategies to optimize their returns from their capital within a given field327. firstly. Symbolic power is therefore granted to those who have obtained sufficient recognition to be in a position to impose recognition. which determines one's social position within a group. especially at the level of the wealthy. At the same time. obtained and exchanged between members of a social group. Symbolic capital is related to symbolic power because symbolic capital is a form of social credit.444 Bourdieu.436 Gartman. they become a form of symbolic or social capital: “symbolic capital is nothing other than economic or cultural capital when it is known and recognized330”. For Bourdieu. This is because “culture”. P (1989) “Social Space and Symbolic Power” in Sociological Theory Vol. Bourdieu's theory sheds light on the fact that class. or that one “obtains”. cultural capital acts as social relation within a system of exchange328. D (1991) Supra at p.org/wiki/Cultural_capital Bourdieu. D (1991) Supra at p. when socially validated. become social capital. high culture. One of the most important forms of capital in society is “cultural capital”. For Bourdieu.99-125 in Gartman.however. and class distinction.wikipedia. economic and cultural. P (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste at p. “class is a structural position in a distributional space of two resources: economic capital and cultural capital. Society therefore consists of the distribution of agents in an overall social space. In other words. acts as a symbolic expression of social hierarchy (class) and therefore power. Bourdieu postulates that people incessantly.17 Bourdieu. but not necessarily rationally. I intend to argue that class divisions. For Bourdieu. No. in the total volume of their assets)329. Horkheimer and Adorno do not give an account of the mediating mechanism that drives cultural consumption. is referred to as “cultural capital”.1 (Spring 1989) at p.21 Bourdieu. and secondly. P (1989) Supra at p. cultural capital is a form of capital which can be possessed. The amount of culture that one is associated with. At the same time however. 325 326 327 328 329 330 331 Gartman. recognition is obtained through the appropriation of economic and cultural capital which is asserted and displayed socially. according to the overall capital that they possess. P (1989) Supra at p. An individual's combined returns from these two fields determine his or her class position326”. in particular.7. Economic and cultural capital together. are adamantly maintained by the appropriation of cultural capital in non-material forms325. D (1991) Supra at p.
17 123 . Bourdieu. what is important is the fact that objectified capital implies embodied capital. skill and education. For Bourdieu. modern capitalist society entails “a set of objective relations between positions occupied within the distribution of resources which are. objectified and institutional cultural capital”. It must be remembered that we are not dealing strictly with “culture” as Horkheimer and Adorno used the term. This is associated with economic capital because the appropriation of culture. P (1989) “Social Space and Symbolic Power” in Sociaological Theory Vol. and cannot possess similar cultural commodities. in the form of objects or commodities. the pursuit of cultural capital. To appropriate cultural commodities is to assert one's superior cultural status.Bourdieu defines the constituent elements of cultural capital as “embodied. is an act of symbolic power because it asserts one's power (both embodied and economic) over those who do not. The final form of cultural capital is the one I intend to focus upon in this chapter. like aces in a game of cards. No. and therefore one's position within the social hierarchy of the classes. To own objectified cultural capital also implies the possession of embodied cultural capital because it implies that one has the requisite knowledge and skills to appreciate or understand the cultural commodity in question. One's embodied cultural capital is thus inherited. is something that we all partake in. Objectified cultural capital is the cultural capital associated with things that can be owned. not in the genetic sense.1 (Spring 1989) at p. It is this link between the acquisition of objectified cultural capital and symbolic power that will be investigated in this chapter. for instance art. books or furniture. associated with cultural capital. Whether the individual does possess the requisite skills or knowledge to appreciate a given cultural commodity is beside the point. Instead. and is the set of economic. especially high culture. in the competition for the appropriation of scarce goods of which this social universe is the site333”. Today. It is these bourgeois educational institutions that equip the privileged individual with specialized knowledge and skills. and the extent to which it contributes to the reification of the inequalities of capitalism (domination). Embodied cultural capital is directly related to Bourdieu's concept of “habitus”. Horkheimer and Adorno concerned themselves with the 332 333 I will explain why high-culture is associated with the expenditure of money and the display if wealth later in the chapter in my argument concerning scarcity. effective. but passed on and inculcated in a process of socialization. whether we are conscious of it or not. From this it is clear that the consumption of commodities.7. Institutional cultural capital is composed of forms of knowledge. It is Bourdieu's contention that knowledge and education fall into the domain of the bourgeoisie who can afford expensive schooling and tertiary studies. class and social relations that we are born into. requires the expenditure of money332. or may become active.
includes the culture industry as Horkheimer and Adorno saw it: radio. In capitalist society. as I use it in this work. As Adorno argued. becomes attributed to the commodity itself. the process of attributing powers to an object that it does not. Culture is also an ideal marker of individuality because of the importance 124 . the apparent. movies.culture industry and its stupefying. The commodity's exchangevalue. was an economic critique of the capitalist process of production. magazines. was not reflected in the commodity as it appeared on the market. Culture is an area which allows us to see to what extent people fetishize the objects of labour. The expansion of the concept of fetishism to social power. or reconfirm one's membership of a socially “superior” group can be said to involve the purchasing of cultural capital. but also possess other qualities such as status. these powers are very closely related to exchange-value. Commodity Fetishism and Cultural Capital But what is the link between Bourdieu's concept of “objectified cultural goods” and Marx's commodity fetishism? If we cast our minds back to the first chapter. and referred strictly to the way in which labourpower. wealth. and the economic concept of commodity fetishism. Cultural capital. over and above economic power. immanent reality of things is that commodities possess exchange-value independently. The conceptual shift that has taken place over time is that “fetishism”. class etc. and how important the fetishized powers of a commodity become in expressing and asserting identity. we will remember that fetishism. and the dictum is that the higher the exchange-value of the commodity. homogenizing effects upon modern civilizations. has been extended to accommodate symbolic powers over and above exchange value. The sense in which I use the term “culture” thus refers to anything that can be purchased (i. This is because of the historically specific circumstances of capitalist production. television. which constituted the value of the product. which appears to have such value independently. anything that is purchased in order to become part of. for Marx. advertisements etc. power. taste. in itself possess. In other words. I included the section on culture in this thesis because it demonstrates most clearly the attribution of powers to the products of labour. It has been long acknowledged that commodities are linked with the expression of identity. has an exchange-value) that confers cultural capital. the more it becomes a symbol of power. expressed in money. leads us to the importance of culture. the news press. and how workers are alienated from the products of their labour.e. Commodity fetishism for Marx thus refers to the way in which a commodity's exchange-value apparently has nothing to do with the labour-process because of the phenomenon of alienation. and the more pleasure the individual derives from it. but what we don't often hear is how this notion can be traced back to Marx.
self-creating creatures whose consciousness gives them the potential for self-determination. reified capitalist society. Critical theorists. Individuals associated with “high culture” do not share elite culture with those who are incapable of appreciating it (traditionally. The simple maxim is that if very few possess. For Horkheimer and Adorno. They believed that mass society was an inclusive term. as a whole. Capitalism constrains and limits the realization of this potential. the reader will come to find that “high-culture” is no different to mass culture in terms of its function. and of “high culture” which tries to distinguish itself from mass culture. and class. and that all forms of consumption were acts of conformity. Those who do not possess cultural capital are thus an integral part in determining the value of a cultural product. saw culture in a very different way to Bourdieu. This is due to cultural capital's nature. especially Horkheimer. poses no threat to dominant capitalist practices or values. along with the Frankfurt critical theorists. Cultural capital is itself scarce and therefore cannot be owned by many individuals at the same time (mass society). Adorno and Marcuse. oppresses and “dumbs down” society. I instead contend that culture is the one area where inequality is actively encouraged. it can never totally suppress the natural desire for freedom. however. But what exactly constitutes and characterizes culture in modern society? I would describe today's culture industry in different terms to Horkheimer and Adorno. success. The nature of culture is that there will never be one commonly adhered to cultural standard. Cultural capital is thus used to determine and enforce one's class position in society. or any act of denunciation or distinction is in fact an expression of capitalist values in itself. as well as Lukács. or consume. This assertion of distinction is essentially a negative act which separates one from mass society.individuals place upon culture as a source of distinction. or at least “high culture”. is capable of 334 Although they wrongly argue that modern culture only consists of one dominant form of “mass culture”. culture is a realm of praxis that expresses these human needs. is precisely the denunciation of mass culture. the more valuable it becomes. as well as reproducing. It is the intention of this chapter to argue the opposite: that “high culture”. mass culture. culture is a form of praxis that is capable of transforming. culture has become a monolithic. or activity free from necessity. culture for Horkheimer and Adorno. For Horkheimer and Adorno. base their theories upon the Marxist postulation that human beings are by nature active. 125 . As we have seen in the previous chapter. the lower classes). Their argument is more general and does not concern itself with the particular struggles for cultural capital that occur within the culture industry. a form of cultural capital. “High culture”. one-dimensional industry334. Horkheimer and Adorno did not explore the concept of cultural capital and the need for distinction. Horkheimer and Adorno. these struggles within the culture industry for cultural capital and distinction would have no bearing upon the fact that the culture industry. For Horkheimer and Adorno. and the more it serves as a source of distinction which denotes wealth. For critical theorists. We can thus speak of culture in two senses here: that of mainstream. at the same time concealing the divisions within capitalist society. as different as it tries to be. This is because culture.
the differences between an individual's position in the system of production is obscured beneath the circulation and ownership of commodities. the drive for distinction. For Horkheimer and Adorno.426 126 . actively conceals the real contention between the working class and the bourgeoisie. In a Marxist sense. which modern society does not provide. D (1991) Supra at p. or innate desire to be free. the consumption of commodities and the reproduction of conditions of domination. The commodity form thus destroys the Utopian potential of true culture for Horkheimer and Adorno335. and that the desire for distinction at most levels reproduces mass-society as much as it denounces it. which means that esoteric. In reality however. fetishism. In other words. and is thus in a position to exploit the worker. At the same time however. What becomes invisible is the fact that the worker is still forced to sell her labour to the capitalist who owns the means of production. The notion of cultural distinction is important because it was not considered by Horkheimer and Adorno (who believed that it was the mass producers of culture who maintained the conditions of domination in modern society). the inequality of social power between workers and the owners of the means of production remains intact. inequality and domination in an overall sense. In this chapter. commodified culture nullifies this critical component. disturbing and intellectual topics are avoided.serving a Utopian function of negating existing. What individuals receive as culture is thus devoid of any critical or disruptive content because firstly. I would like to argue that the consumption of “high culture” (which can be extended to the consumption of “high-end” commodities) is instrumental in maintaining the status quo. alienating society because culture is an expression of human longing for fulfillment. Culture is thus potentially disruptive because it is an expression and retainment of our “species-being”. This is because the production of cultural goods today takes place in large industries which are driven by the profit motive. And secondly. and the desire to be seen as “free from necessity” or poverty. cultural goods must appeal to the largest possible audience in order to maximize profit. For Horkheimer and Adorno. in order to obtain maximum profits. but what happens at the level of the individual? Bourdieu's theory of distinction and culture can be used to contribute greatly to the theory of culture. has resulted in the rapid growth of a broad middle class which encompasses the working class and consequently blurs the contention between the labouring class and the owners of the means of production in the consciousness of the people. Horkheimer and Adorno explain that the culture industry acts to reproduce the system of alienation. this class reality is subsumed by a difference in the amount of similar 335 Gartman. the ownership of commodities amongst the broad middle class (especially in the first world). it would disrupt the very system upon which the culture industry is based.
that class differences do not exist. The result is a social existence that is governed by the apparent ownership of qualitatively similar goods on an immediate level. N & Williams. but different from it. and see social divisions as a difference in the accumulation of aesthetically similar material things.127 (my text in brackets) 127 . what I argue to be. and not the difference in social position with regards to production. This broadening group of consumers who own own similar goods blur the class divisions within society336. Workers therefore do not identify their alienation and exploitation as producers. The problem we need to look at however. or commodities come to represent differences between workers and capitalists. one of the most prominent manifestations of symbolic power today: commodities. Garnham. there is a connection between cultural capital and class. By discussing the relationship between culture and the consumption of commodities. Social capital is related. over and above the economic form of exchange-value. reification and domination. mass produced “things”. This is because commodities have a fetishized value that is closely related to exchange-value. and that the principle of distinction does not apply to the middle class. What this means is that qualitatively similar. The Social Role of Commodities Today: Symbolic Power and Domination In modern capitalist society. This does not mean however. Bourdieu puts the question as follows: “how do the apparently autonomous practices of the agents involved in two different classes (bourgeoisie and proletariat) interact as to not just produce but reproduce the class patterns of cultural practice in general and by doing so tend to reproduce the given sets of class relations in general337”. R et al (1987) Media Culture and Society: A Critical Reader at p. In day to day transactions. The question is more complex than this. participating in mass culture. all of one's accumulated goods cannot be displayed. The only difference that arises from this is the amount of similar goods that can be accumulated by any given individual. R (1987) “Pierre Bourdieu and the Sociology of Culture: An Introduction” in Collins. own aesthetically similar goods. Commodities thus represent one's appropriation of cultural or social capital. we can come to understand the extent to which feitishism and reification still play a role within today's society. This will require us to look at. and how both are still important tools for understanding the domination of the privileged class over the poor. is not simply the relationship between class and cultural appropriation. but different 336 337 The result of this is that people. I will answer this question by arguing that domination is exercised by the bourgeoisie in the form of symbolic power. At this point it becomes important to relate this argument to the overall project of commodity fetishism. Bourdieu's theory is important because it is capable of giving us an insight into the processes that create this broad middle class. This can then be used to substantiate Horkheimer and Adorno's argument that this burgeoning middle class reifies the social system of capitalism.commodities individuals are able to appropriate.
it unites all those who are the product of similar conditions but only by distinguishing them from all others. Symbolic power is therefore a fetishized value that displays privilege. The extension of fetishism thus considers how powers. In today's society. J. In other words. social capital is the amount of honour or prestige possessed by a person within certain social groups. In today's class society. success and cultural disposition are revealed by the commodities we consume. Bourdieu argues that. which is in turn related to a display of one's economic capital. Society and Culture at p. D (1991) Supra at p. extended beyond the economic fetish of exchange-value. Like every sort of taste. such as status.. intelligence. To be “free from necessity” is to be free from troubling over the acquisition of life's basic amenities. wealth. since taste is the basis of all that one has – people and things – and of all that one is for others.C. The symbolic power of a commodity is its ability to represent superiority.435 Bourdieu.e. and is thus 338 339 Bourdieu. are reflected in the act of consumption. Marx did not consider how the comprehension of the commodity. and how the competitive consumption of commodities is practised among even the poorest members of society. This extended concept of fetishism is rooted in the assertion of individuality through acts of distinction. an Extract from Distinction p. acquiring and maintaining the basic standard of living (i.192 128 .distinctive expression of a privileged position in social space whose distinctive value is objectively established in its relationship to expressions generated from different conditions.11-57 (London: Routeledge) in Collins.from economic and cultural capital in that it represents a more general type of symbolic capital. the drive to be distinct arises from the human desire to appear to others as “free from necessity”. it unites and separates. And it distinguishes in an essential way. in its most reduced form. whereby one classifies oneself and is classified by others339. this freedom from strife shows that one has surplus wealth. water and shelter).. in other words. As we will see. class. (1977) Reproduction: In Education. Being the product of the conditionings associated with a particular class of existence. P (1984) “The Aristocracy of Culture”. such as film. taste. P & Passerson. etc. Before I develop the argument for distinction further. I would like to explain where conspicuous consumption and the intense desire to be distinct from others comes from. one's worth. sufficient food. The consumption of commodities is a thus a . this honour or prestige is directly related to the objectified cultural capital that one is capable of appropriating. art and music. The consumption of cultural commodities.196 in Gartman. such as furniture. are tied up with the same logic as “personal” purchases. R et al (1987) Media Culture and Society: A Critical Reader at p. Bourdieu argues that symbolic capital is a form of social power which is based on “a cultural misrecognition of economic capital through its conversion to symbolic capital338”. clothing or cookery. because such acts are aimed towards the attainment of social capital. or the fetishism of the commodity.
R et al (1987) Supra at p. etc. Individuals are thus socialized and influenced by the structures and social conditions that constitute “habitus”. Bourdieu maintains that a taste for such cultural activities and commodities is out of reach for the lower classes. unable to engage in cultural activities. P(1984) Supra in Collins.an exhibition of freedom from the struggles of the lower classes. Being unable to afford a bourgeois education. for [an individual's] actions and choices are determined by their habitus343”. especially amongst the lower classes who are circumstantially forced to develop a “taste for the necessary”. A life of necessity is thus characterized by low levels of aestheticism. (2003) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology at p. who in turn dismiss all alternatives as mere daydreams.438 129 . R et al (1987) Supra at p. His argument is a structuralist account that sees classes as groups of people who are collectively socialized. inherited social position (class). remain dominated by ordinary interests and urgencies341”. one's life can be orientated and organized according to choices that clearly demonstrate how one has conquered necessity. literature. or social capital. H.191-192 Gartman.191 Bourdieu. The lifestyles of the lower classes. For Bourdieu. It is important to note that the tastes associated with the expression and exhibition of economic freedom (and therefore class) can only assert themselves in relation to what they are not. and being generally unable to afford high-end cultural commodities) the lower classes are excluded from cultural activities such as art.H. cannot afford to acquire cultural capital. Choice is thus constrained by the structural determinants and experiences of class: “these enacted choices imply no acts of choosing. Class socialization thus determines the limits of one's choices. or their lived. Individuals internalize class which determines their behaviour. The result of this is that the lower classes develop a taste for the necessary: the low end products and forms of 340 341 342 343 Gerth. Bourdieu argues that the lower classes. The lower classes. tastes of necessity which are reduced to the level of the aesthetic and so defined as “vulgar taste” 342. As one's distance from necessity grows. because they cannot assert the same contempt for contingencies in gratuitous luxury and conspicuous consumption. philosophy and art. are not free to indulge in cultural activities such as literature. Bourdieu argues that this display is an affirmation of bourgeois power and “always implies a claim to a legitimate superiority over those who. This is because the lower classes. bound to toiling over the acquisition of basic amenities. and in turn develop similar tastes and lifestyles. or habitus. In other words. D (1991) Supra at p.191 Bourdieu. aesthetic tastes and consumer preferences are determined by one's inherited social position. (also. cannot entertain the idea of living luxuriously. theatre. first of all. P(1984) Supra in Collins. one's lifestyle increasingly becomes the product of what Weber calls the “stylization of life 340”. develop “tastes” that can be attributed to class position. they cannot afford to engage in cultural activities because they are too busy acquiring basic necessities such as food and shelter. forced by their conditions of existence. At the same time. not having the time outside work. and instead turn to what they have and know. culture and intelligence.
class divisions are inexorable because one's lifestyle (taste. as well as growing capitalist societies. even low-end commodities because the upper-class aesthetic is what people have a taste for: it is what they desire346. D (1991) Supra at p. regardless of class. is not entirely accurate in describing modern capitalist societies.438 130 . cellphones. Bourdieu's principle of distinction can be used to explain why the lower-classes strive to accumulate the same goods as the middle and upper classes. This is in contrast to the classspecific bourgeois taste for freedom which is found in high-culture. It is only the means available for obtaining such cultural commodities that differs in capitalist society. also have a taste for distinguishing forms of objectified cultural capital such as fashionable clothes. cars. culture. D (1991) Supra at p. D (1991) Supra at p. Most notably. Bourdieu is thus wrong in arguing that the lower-classes develop a strict taste for low-end lifestyle goods that are simple. Bourdieu's argument is that workers actually have a taste for the low-end cultural practices and goods forced upon them in their subordinate class position. However. they are limited in their challenge to the totality of bourgeois society344. As I have argued above. For Bourdieu. workers have so thoroughly internalized their own domination that they are forced to rely on the symbolic goods and tools supplied externally from the bourgeoisie to organize and express their interests. P (1985) “The Social Space and the Genesis of Groups” in Theory and Society at p. material goods are becoming more and more homogeneous because no individual wants to possess goods that are ostensibly “lower-class”. a taste and a desire for cultural commodities is shared by all classes. first and foremostly. electronics. Bourdieu's theory of distinction can be used to explain why individuals in all classes are driven to differentiate themselves from others. and are driven by the desire to own the same distinguishing commodities. Bourdieu's structuralist theory of culture however. Bourdieu relates this to domination by arguing that these class-determined tastes and stratified cultural practices inevitably and inexorably reproduce the class divisions and structures that produce them345. Working class individuals therefore desire the same material goods as the bourgeoisie. Instead. and how the whole of society is involved in a competition for scarce forms of cultural capital.438 See Gartman. desire the same things. Distinction is thus. For Bourdieu. aesthetics) is pre-determined by the class position one is born into. a taste for modern cultural commodities that represent lifestyle is a something that is shared by all classes alike. an expression of individuality 344 345 346 Bourdieu. or lower-class individuals therefore. Working class. The aesthetic of upper-class taste is reflected in most commodities. frugal and functional. accessories etc. P (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste at pp.735-744 and Bourdieu.440 Gartman.entertainment in society. What Bourdieu doesn't account for is the fact that individuals. From here onwards. my argument differs from Bourdieu's.397-465 in Gartman. because these tools are bourgeois in origin.
The pejorative concept of mass society helps us understand why a distance from this group is so important. At the same time. wrongly in my opinion. The “masses”. For Horkheimer and Adorno. Bourdieu also contends. that the desire to be distinct.through the display of objectified cultural capital. The theory of distinction. which results in her asserting her superior class position. it is a movement away from a negatively defined “mass group” which has been given the label of “mainstream” or “mass society”. uncultured. distinction entails the individual acting upon her predispositions (informed by habitus). For Bourdieu. I believe however. Distinction is thus driven by the urge to differentiate oneself from lower classes. and secondly. it must be acknowledged that the pejorative concept of mass society is bound up with the negative cultural associations attributed to the lower classes. 131 . This being said. This is because they do not have “freedom from necessity”. it is not only the lower classes (relative to one's current class position) that individuals seek distinction from. is something common to all classes. Clichéd phrases such as “keeping up with the Joneses'” and “sheep mentality” have come to typify the perception of mainstream. The point here is to give the reader an example of modern perceptions of “mass culture”. This may or may not be true. In order to avoid an association with mass society. it is characterized by compulsive conformity and the need for acceptance. the lower. or express one's individuality. But why is mass society considered so negatively? I have already provided a brief explanation of why the lower classes are considered to be “simple”. who concern themselves with acquiring basic goods instead of culture and social capital. This does not only go for intellectual circles either. (as well as many other cultural critics347). provides us with a better picture of consumer society if we apply it to the concept of “mass society”. or “uncultured” . the notion of mass society is always pejorative. as something that explains what continually drives individuals to consume commodities. Mass Society Bourdieu did not consider the role of “mass society” in his social theory. or working class). mass society. “stupid” and “barbarous”. As we have seen above. that the lower classes do not engage in similar acts of distinction because their habitus confines them to “simple tastes”. Mass society today represents a large group of people who are “uncultured”. it is exactly a freedom from necessity that represents success and superiority 347 See Naomi Klein's No Logo or the popularity of Adbusters for a glimpse of how manipulable and passive “mass society” is argued to be. stupid heard of humans. or “mass society” have come to be equated with those who are not sufficiently “free from necessity” (traditionally. the consumer's consumption patterns must demonstrate that she does not associate herself with “mass society”. Mass society has come to be thought of as an unthinking. For Bourdieu.
claimed to be the whole of society. In modern society however. The argument in the passage above rings true for the current trends in consumption. cooking.175 Again. The following quote from Ortega y Gasset clearly demonstrates contemporary attitude towards the concept of mass society: For a century and a half. such as art.15-17 in Bourdieu. The quote refers specifically to art. as the 'common people'. It is not only through art and music that the individual asserts one's cultural status. wealth and success of the individual. a secondary factor in the spiritual cosmos. can be extended to the consumptive patterns of other commodities (furniture. freedom from necessity does not explain the continual desire to be distinct from groups or classes that are not associated with the poorest of the poor. the 'people'. this anti-mainstream art can only be grasped by the culturally privileged who are endowed with knowledge. which is to be few in number and to have to fight against the multitude348 The above passage shows how modern society has become divided into two broad “castes”: the culturally and intellectually “inert” on the one hand.175 Bourdieu. have become an extension of culture. This occurs regardless of whether society is first or third world because the desire to be distinct remains universally applicable.(a source of distinction from others). As I have already argued. a mere ingredient among others in the social structure. knowledge. class. R et al (1987) Supra at p. The music of Stravinsky or the plays of Pirandello have the sociological power of obliging them to see themselves as they are. P(1984) Supra in Collins. even better than others who cannot appropriate similar commodities. It can be argued that many. 348 349 350 Ortega y Gasset (1976) La deshumanizacion del arte at p. “a sensuous nobility. as well as Bourdieu's theory of class based distinction. the consumption of cultural capital. and is based solidly upon the concept of a commodity fetishism. By contrast the young art helps the 'best' to know and recognize one another in the greyness of the multitude and to learn their mission. 132 . with certain commodities possessing symbolic power350. even in comparatively wealthy first world countries. R et al (1987) Supra Supra at p. For Ortega y Gasset. an instinctive sense of aristocracy 349”. the commodity symbolizes the taste. what drives the individual to distinguish herself from her middle class contemporaries? This is where the argument of “freedom from necessity”. In other words. must be expanded to explain the contempt for “mass society”. and the culturally “gifted” and “progressive” on the other. individuality. it shows how she is different. P(1984) in Collins. the mass. the inert material of the historical process. clothing etc). In short. and how certain types of new art only appeal to a special minority. if not most commodities today.
and are excluded from doing so by the nature of class society. qualitative or aesthetic qualities of cultural commodities (or any other commodity for that matter) do not have to be considered. or cultural commodities. wealthy bourgeois class who seek to distance themselves from this middle class. as well as why “high-culture” is so important amongst the upper-classes. For Bourdieu. A discussion of this falls outside of the scope of this chapter. It is always an exclusionary act because the consumer either joins. or other commodities. We can consider the value of a given commodity in different terms: namely. without considering the aesthetic or qualitative aspects of a given commodity. Returning to the extended concept of commodity fetishism. scarcity and distinction. distinction can be identified as the explanatory mechanism that drives modern patterns of consumption. The substantive. independent of its constitutive processes). However. operate according to the principle of distinction which is an assertion of individuality. I do agree with what is implicit in Bourdieu's argument: That it is precisely those who excluded from forms of elitist behaviour and consumption that give the entire system meaning. and even the lower classes in society however.The consumption of commodities. is thus an exercise in asserting power over others who are excluded economically and socially from similar practices. The principle of distinction thus explains why the middle class has become so encompassing. Distinction as a Zero Sum Game In today's society. or cannot afford. as a group of excluded individuals. The principle of competitive consumption can be simply put as follows: to own certain commodities that others do not have. or objectified cultural capital. this is because the dominated do not possess sufficient economic or cultural capital. whether it be through the consumption of general commodities. my argument is that commodities possess 133 . constitutes mass society. constitutes an act of distinction. The most important conceptual characteristic of elitism or distinction. In contrast to this is the upper. Both classes. These qualities have a very real existence that appear to the individual as qualities that stem from the commodity itself (exactly the same way in which exchange value appears to stem from the commodity itself. One of the results of this universal desire to be distinct is the creation of an ostensible broad middle class. I have already made it clear why I believe this explanation is insufficient. This is not to say that there is nothing substantive to works of art. or affirms her membership of a group or class at the expense of others who do not merit membership. We can therefore identify some of the social processes involved. is that it relies upon what it rejects for its content. and the political repercussions of the system of commodity consumption. The entire process thus relies upon the excluded individual who.
The concept of an elite group. A broad. As I touched on above. which have come to be masked as an aesthetic. this common drive results 134 . From this it becomes clear how objects that represent distinction act to reproduce the inequalities of capitalism. The interesting result of competitive consumption however. Underpinning this is the consumption of commodities. distinct from the popular. and the lower classes. or distance from mass society and all its pejorative connotations. consumption reifies the social conditions of capitalism because it obscures the real class relations that exist beneath the accumulation of similar material goods. One of the reasons that modern society produces so much waste is because the consumption of commodities is an exercise that never reaches equilibrium. is that if everybody desires products that guarantee social distinction. which is an expression of disassociation from the negative concept of “mass society”. is that. in a way. even once they are established as “middle class”. At the moment. I will explain the effects of this type of production later. The problem however. can only be identified with certainty in first world countries. and the amount of distinction it subsequently confers upon the individual. justifying their contempt for the culturally inert “others” in terms of their greater aestheticism. thus reproduces the social structure of two competing classses. or “upper class” etc. culture. apart from the masses. Nevertheless. inclusive middle class however. relies upon its exclusivity. “uncultured” masses. What underlies this however. The Frankfurt school argued that. naïve group. the elite group itself becomes too large to offer a sufficient source of distinction. the desire to be distinct causes individuals to appropriate forms of social capital in order to distinguish themselves from others. we must discover why individuals end up buying similar goods. in the first world. This is because one's appropriated commodities are a representation of one's distance from the “historically inert”. The fleeting nature of social capital requires individuals to continually purchase new commodities in order to reaffirm their social status. in the first and third world. The social capital of a given commodity. elite groups explain their elitism in aesthetic terms. This is apparent in trends where individuals buy similar. which secure their place within a group associated with superior “taste”. is a deep sense of exclusivism which associates the excluded masses with vulgarity and stupidity. this means a distance from the poor and the stupid who constitute the majority of human civilization. as well as what keeps them buying more and more goods. if everybody is driven by the desire to be in an elite group. acts to maintain the division between the elite class. large groups of people end up consuming goods that are qualitatively similar. or cultural division. which no longer act as a source of distinction. knowledge and intellect. In a more direct sense. I have already described how current patterns of consumption obscure the class divisions between the working. and the middle to uppermiddle class. The desire to be distinct is therefore self-reproducing because in modern society everybody eventually ends up owning similar things.symbolic power which. it comes to take on the characteristics of mass society itself. or the same commodities. As I have explained.
and secondly. There are many explanations that can be offered for this (for instance material depreciation). the more it ceases to act as a marker of a select group. Society is thus ostensibly more homogeneous.in the ownership of lifestyle goods that are qualitatively similar. the drive for distinction and status necessarily involves bumping either someone else. In other words. someone else must lose. competitive consumption continues. The problem is that such acts of perpetual competitive consumption are self defeating because the more people that engage in such acts. or who believes herself to be different from mass society. Distinction therefore becomes more difficult to obtain. If we remember that the act of consumption is an act of distinction from a group with negative connotations (mass society). lose their symbolic power. The individual who does not want to be associated with. The competitive consumption of fetishized commodities can be seen in this regard as a “zero-sum” game. even after an individual has confirmed her membership of a class that is distinct from “mass society”. the more the symbolic power of the commodity becomes devalued. which appear on the market as commodities. and there would be no need for further consumption (which is the possible scenario in some first wold countries). that the main reason behind the loss of symbolic. This is not the case however. we can understand how a commodity can come to lose its symbolic power. Competitive consumption means that in order for one person to win. I would argue however. the more individuals who possess commodity X. must make up for this loss by consuming something that will bump others down (who will themselves feel the urge to make this up by outdoing others). 135 . fetishized power. This is the devaluation of a commodity's value because of increasing “mass appeal”. is thus forced to purchase more commodities which place her in a smaller. if it becomes associated with this group. In other words. or everyone else down. one would be identifiably middle class. or bourgeois. exclusionary group. can be reduced to devaluation by popularity. firstly because individuals can afford more or less of the same commodities (even if they can't afford them. driven by the same urge to be distinct. and it is because of this difficulty that competitive consumption becomes more important. they can go into debt). Those who are “bumped down”. If we ended the explanation here it would imply that if the requisite level of accumulated goods had been attained. The reason for continual consumption beyond this point is that commodities. over time. because the bourgeois aesthetic is common to most objectified forms of cultural capital. In modern consumer society.
The result is that competitive consumption generates no lasting increase in happiness because the source of that happiness (the distinction from others. we need to witness them lose. T (1934) Supra at p. or at least take a position that is behind us in the race for social 351 352 Veblin. or even acquaintances. and how the process of distinction relies upon the opinion of others: The exigencies of the modern industrial system frequently place individuals and households in juxtaposition between whom there is little contact in any other sense than that of juxtaposition. only remains meaningful whilst others entrepreneurs drive Golfs.74 Veblin. The consumer's purchase however. The most immediate way to achieve this is not through a display of intellect but of wealth (which is synonymous with success). Her next task is to buy a Jaguar in order to set herself apart from her competition. and still their transient good opinion has a high degree of utility352 Veblin argues that one's contemporaries are seen as competitors. The entrepreneur thus finds it important to drive a BMW because it distinguishes herself from other entrepreneurs and projects an image of success. The characteristic feature of this type of competitive consumption is that individuals are in opposition with another. To gain the upper hand over our fellow competitors. or sense of superiority and individuality) decreases over time as others catch up. and the same process begins again. Thus the expenditure of time and energy does not generate any improvements for society: “It is called waste because this expenditure does not serve human life or human well-being on the whole351”. One's neighbours. even though the purchase is to the severe detriment of her bank balance. and when they upscale to a BMW. This situation can be best described in terms of the concept of an arms race. The other entrepreneurs and businessmen are also driven by this impulse which leads to more and more of them buying BMW's – our entrepreneur thus returns to the same position she started out in. Take for example the following: An entrepreneur seeks to instill investor and customer confidence by presenting an image of success.73 To clarify exactly what constitutes “waste” Veblin states that “in strict accuracy nothing should be included under the head of conspicuous waste but such expenditure as is incurred on the ground of an invidious pecuniary comparison”. T (1934) The Theory of the Leisure Class : An Economic Study of Institutions at p. The quotation below goes to show the nature of competitive consumption. Ibid at p. our entrepreneur's point of distinction collapses. which is a zero-sum game: The entire process is self-defeating because any increase must be outdone by a subsequent increase.Veblen argues that such consumptive behaviour is “wasteful” because when everyone does it. everyone winds up right back where they started.65 136 . mechanically speaking. and engage in strategic consumption in order to appropriate a form of capital that is most elusive and scarce: social capital. often are socially not one's neighbours.
because it is not only the upper classes who strive to obtain new forms of social capital. Again. As I argued earlier. It is this process that requires those who possess the highest amounts of social capital to continually distinguish themselves from those who “catch up” (traditionally those who possess lower amounts of social capital). This depreciation in symbolic power happens from the “bottom up”. and therefore. with regards to a commodity's social value. The opinion of others. This argument however. power. This is what I mean by stating that capitalism is maintained by its own processes. Here we shift our focus from the depreciation of symbolic power. because competitive consumption means continual consumption. Individuals are thus required to continually consume commodities. is its scarcity. I will now explain how the upper classes react to the “catch up” movements within mainstream society by striving to create new areas of social capital. The Vanguard and the Consumption of High-Culture We must now turn our focus to the groups that keep society in a constant state of competition and consumption. that before provided a source of distinction. or reaffirm ones membership of groups or classes that are distinct (and superior) from mass society. 137 . The social processes of competitive consumption maintain the productive processes. As I have noted before. and it is this competition for scarce forms of social capital that characterize consumer behaviour across the classes. the ones who are left trailing after other's consumptive gain. can be extended to all acts of consumption within today's society. through popularity. it is this opinion that “has a high degree of utility” for the individual because it confers a sense of social distinction from others. has shaped and refined the productive systems of capitalism. More specifically. because each act of competitive consumption is exclusionary (it excludes others and forces them into a lower class position). It must also be remembered that both scarcity and social capital are instruments of domination which act to maintain the class divisions within society.capital. and drive the current productive system of capitalism. the defining principle. and occurs when mass society becomes increasingly associated with a commodity. the competition for social capital is self-perpetuating because of the problem of popularity and the decreasing scarcity of a given commodity that is supposed to provide distinction. What determines one's position within the hierarchy of society is the opinion of others who validate one's social status by recognizing the appropriation of symbolic goods. This drive to consume new commodities that assert. which means a continual source of commercial income or profit. I have already explained why the symbolic power of commodities decreases as their popularity increases. is thus instrumental in giving the entire hierarchical system of social power credence. to its opposite: the appreciation of higher sources of social capital through scarcity. The processes involved in these social acts of distinction are processes that rely upon.
It is this area (the redefinition. This process of attaining these forms of capital takes the form of making claims to new sources of cultural capital. This explains why pleasure is so directly related to the exchange-value of a commodity. the fewer the number of individuals who can afford such a commodity. Modern consumer society can thus be thought of as an intense competition for ever decreasing amounts of social capital. one's point of distinction collapses. which means that the individual must appropriate things that constantly distinguish herself from others in a similar position. by creating new trends. there is a continual urge to be part of the “highest elite”. so few are produced. This requires the individual to appropriate things that cost more and more. The pleasure derived from the appropriation of an expensive commodity is a personal affirmation of one's distinctness and individuality. Apart from this. or rare a commodity is. or uniqueness of a cultural good comes to determine its value. and the more exchange value it becomes associated with (economic capital). What this basically means is that the higher the exchange-value of a commodity. people are willing to go into debt to accumulate commodities that will provide them with further sources of distinction. It can stop at a certain point (the individual simply might not have enough money to accumulate further). Social capital only works as a marker of distinction if others don't possess it.Objectified cultural capital. The idea is that the more elite. It is this group of fewer and fewer individuals who compete for the most valuable. because so few people can afford such valuable commodities. and most scarce forms of social capital. What I mean by “ever decreasing amounts of social capital” is based upon the “zero sum” game analogy that I provided earlier. I would argue however. This process is not limitless however. for instance. in a general sense. and because so few people have such commodities. As soon as others possess similar goods. Scarcity. they act as an ultimate form of distinction. limited distribution). should be thus understood in terms of exchange-value. cultural and social capital). This does not mean that the desire to continue consumption ceases. because wealth itself is scarce. In many cases. It might be argued that the scarcity of a commodity can extend from a variety of factors (for instance. in agreement with Horkheimer and Adorno. that the commodity is valued primarily along the lines of its exchange value. is thus based upon the scarcity of the commodity. The more one spends. This is exactly what Bourdieu means when he argues that the rarity. The simple equation is that. the more the commodity would act as a source of distinction (social capital). or creation of new sources of social capital) that constitutes the vanguard: the cutting edge of consumption. The competition for social capital drives individuals to compete for ever decreasing amounts of social capital (economic. the more one acquires independence or distinction. or in its broader sense (as we extend it to all commodities). The process of competitive consumption can also continue for the few individuals who can afford to do so. which brings us to the driving force of the vanguard in capitalism. It is also the vanguard that 138 . social capital.
435-436. Their claims are thus legitimized by their monopoly over cultural capital. and thus continually redefine the areas rich with cultural capital. for Bourdieu. effectively validating the class divisions within society: class differences produce “visible cultural differences in all fields. Bourdieu's argument is that this legitimation of class domination entails a cultural misrecognition of economic capital through its conversion into symbolic capital353. why do others identify and validate these new sources of social capital? The reason that certain assertions of taste (for instance. Economic capital is continuously translated into. according to Bourdieu. is secured by economic capital which is used to dominate others. the wearing of new fashionable shoes) develop such influence is that they arise from areas of power. dominating divisions within society. For Bourdieu. cultural knowledge and goods) and consequently takes her place within a superior group 354. New areas of social capital are developed by the vanguard. shifting process that reproduces and recognizes the reified. the actor makes a claim to knowledge that expresses her cultural knowledge and status. D (1991) Supra at p. or ability that the lower classes do not possess. or social capital. are self-legitimizing because they are believed to possess an aristocratic instinct. This violence is however. 444 139 . Bourdieu's argument is that acts of cultural consumption objectify the class differences in capitalist society. and disguised as cultural or symbolic capital. social power subordinates the working class. or worthiness. But what gives these assertions of taste value or substance? In other words. who are essentially “self-legitimizing”. Class legitimization. by no means overt. or cultural knowledge. The cultural vanguard who drive the entire process of trend creation.196 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) Gartman. the misrecognition of economic power as symbolic. The bourgeois individual is attributed with taste and cultural knowledge which. Bourdieu argues that these relations of economic domination are reproduced daily through the exercise of violence. or gift. From this it becomes clear that the structure of capitalist society is kept intact by its own processes.keeps people consuming in order to confirm their membership of elite groups and classes. The bourgeois individual is thus associated with symbolic power (taste. but but because these cultural 353 354 See Bourdieu. P (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice at p. is however. Class power is therefore misrecognized as individual giftedness. stems from her socialization and education (“habitus”). perceived as a personal faculty. This taste. Class differences are relationships of economic domination which are direct and personal. which is equated with honour and entitlement. The elite thus have the ability to create new sources of social capital because they are believed to be in possession of social capital. The vanguard drive the consumptive patterns of others because they are believed to possess cultural knowledge. which is a form of elitist power. As with any assertion of taste. or “taste”. The consumption of commodities is thus a continual.
because only a few possess it (and to possess it. which are not open to everyone. Culture on the other hand (if thought of as a personal capacity). this cultural 355 356 357 Gartman. and even if they were presented with such goods. Common people could simply not appreciate cultural goods of such value. culture and knowledge. it should not be surprising to the reader that bourgeois taste and culture are expressions of a conscious. by definition. wealth and status). P(1984) Supra in Collins.175 This differs from the democratic perception of political freedoms or economic equality. and is instead taken to be an immediate argument for the legitimization of the elite's cultural monopoly. like cookies or cocktails. This is why culture and taste signify individuality. at least on the radio. Otherwise. listen to great music. were pleasures reserved for the rich. painting. and even books. go to museums. the 'common people'. ways that are not commonly understood. and others don't. This wouldn't make sense because only a few people are capable of playing tennis well. and others don't357. the judgement of the masses about these things has become a reality and though this it has become clear that great art is not a direct sensuous pleasure. would have enjoyed them equally. These concern things (rights. and therefore do not have the desire or need to appreciate high culture. they would not possess the faculties or intellect required to appreciate them: In the past. capable of being extended to all citizens within society. if they had the chance. the masses did not have access to art. It might have been supposed that the poor. For the elite. by definition cannot be shared equally because some possess the ability to appreciate it.183 in Bourdieu. or unconscious intention to be distinct from “common people”. The real source of the capacity to understand culture (a bourgeois intellectual upbringing) is not acknowledged. S (1968) “On Significance in Music” in Aesthetics and the Arts at p.differences are mistakenly perceived as originating in individual worthiness rather than class position. R et al (1987) Supra at p. it would flatter uneducated taste as much as cultivated taste356 The above quotation serves to demonstrate the perception that culture cannot be shared equally because taste and culture are innate faculties that some possess. The appreciation of culture is thus the domain of the few who are capable of deriving pleasure in other ways. means that one is associated with positive things such as intelligence. or money) that are. the masses are simply not interested in aesthetics. But now that everyone can read. The same type of logic applies to the distribution of culture to all. The pleasure derived from appreciating culture is not based upon direct sensuous pleasure (an abased type of pleasure similar to the pleasure derived from “eating cookies”). D (1991) Supra at p. At this stage. The connection between economic privilege (directly related to education) and cultural knowledge is not scrutinized. As I have argued before.429 (my emphases) Langer. It doesn't make sense because of the common perception of culture as a “talent” or inherent individual capacity. The extension of culture to all would make as much sense as giving all the members of society tennis equipment. 140 . or mass society. They were not born with the ability. they end up legitimating the class system355. music.
There is no accounting for tastes. Aesthetic intolerance can be terribly violent.e. This assertion of privilege and distinction from the lower classes has become so reified that it has come to be regarded as an innate capacity of the upper classes. in other words. the desire for distinction is a drive that relies more upon what culture is not. In matters of taste. higher forms of culture define themselves in stark contrast to what they are not: mainstream culture. easy and immediately accessible.e. For Bourdieu.e. the bourgeois.16 Bourdieu. when they have to be justified. Pierre Bourdieu argues accordingly that: [t]astes (i. This entire process can of course be reduced to the desire for distinction from mass society through the consumption of symbolic commodities. Taste and culture can thus be reduced to the bourgeois expression of class and superiority of knowledge. It is no accident that. being a habitus – which amounts to rejecting others as unnatural and therefore vicious. or upper class individuals who are privileged.. and tastes are first and foremost. Bourdieu. the idiocy associated with mass-society358. by the refusal of other tastes. art and literature). they are asserted purely negatively. manifested preferences) are the practical affirmation of an inevitable difference. and the fact that it amounts to a zero sum game? Bourdieu argues that middle.) which implies a recognition of distances. instead of a conditioned capacity. In other words.” etc. Starting from the point of the commodity.. which is an expression of both cultural and economic power. tastes are 358 359 But what about individuals who are aware of competitive consumption. we can now come to fully appreciate how the commodity becomes an expression of taste. i.192 141 . all determination is negation. disgust provoked by horror or visceral intolerance ('sick-making') of the tastes of others. thus reaping the profits of the recognition granted to a purely symbolic denegation of distance (“she is unaffected. are the result of bourgeois schooling and conditioning. P(1984) Supra in Collins. essentializing explanation of culture and taste. but who are aware of asserting this privilege engage in “strategies of condescension”.. distastes. a distance which does not thereby cease to exist. P(198) Supra at p.. because each taste feels itself to be natural – and so it almost is. The most intolerable thing for those who regard themselves as the possessor of legitimate culture is the sacrilegious reuniting of tastes which taste dictates shall be separated359.monopoly is self-legitimizing because of this very exclusivist. and an understanding of cultural goods (i. Commodity Fetishism and Domination It has been stated before in this chapter that in culture. who rejects mass society. Aversion to different life styles is perhaps one of the strongest barriers between the classes: class endogamy is evidence of it. more than anywhere else. What the elite bourgeois individual fails to recognize is that higher tastes. common. In reality. its wasteful effects. than what it is. is instead rejecting what is generic. R et al (1987) Supra at p.” “he is not highbrow” or stand-offish. Strategies of condescension are those strategies by which agents who occupy a higher position in one of the hierarchies of objective space symbolically deny the social distance between themselves and others.
434-445 142 . Horkheimer and Adorno's argument regarding the culture industry seems insufficient in explaining how humans engage with. and the middle class. This point follows Horkheimer and Adorno's argument concerning mass society. differentiating sense of taste) thus establishes categories. 2) By reproducing and legitimizing the division between the privileged bourgeoisie and lower classes (who come to adopt the negative connotation of mass society) through the consumption of nonmaterial forms of culture (“high-culture” such as art. it is precisely this that we wish to obtain. and ever closing gap between the relative level of commodities consumed by the working class. a vicious form of conspicuous consumption. The competitive consumption of commodities is an expression of power through the ownership of objects. the reason that it is considered to represent a lack of taste (and therefore a lack of cultural capital) is because it implies mainstream behaviour. intellectualism etc. So. Developed societies therefore have a narrow. cars etc. and obscures the inequalities. things like clothes. as well as culture (social power). which means that they are purposeful. Gartman. spend their wages on constructing a small realm of freedom at home. but it is utterly inconceivable to have Celine Dion's latest album in there as well. The assertion of taste (which each individual believes to be a superior. what it is different from)360. active demarcators of difference. buying products that superficially satisfy their displaced desires. blocked in their efforts to achieve self-determination at work. technology. D (1991) Supra at p. they are also instrumental in maintaining the class divisions that are characteristic of capitalist society in two ways: 1) By obscuring the division between the working class and the middle to upper-middle class through the mass consumption of mass-produced commodities (material forms of culture). household appliances. not only do commodities result in the perpetuation of the forces of production. as a form of objectified cultural capital. exploitation and alienation of late capitalism. actively conceal class divisions because ostensibly.e. This is because a Celine Dion CD indicates a lack of taste. and how the mass production of culture in society actively reifies. Most importantly however.)361 In modern consumer society. everybody appears to have similar goods of similar quality. in order 360 361 For example. music. Most importantly however. are also a tangible display of purchasing power (economic power). I have already established that the fetishism associated with commodities extends far beyond Marx's original economic account. taste establishes negative categories (i. and practice. And as Veblin argued.practical. to make a claim to cultural knowhow (and hence cultural capital) it is passable to have some Bach or John Coltrane in your CD collection. synonymous with conformity and the inane. literature. forms of culture that reproduce capitalist conditions of domination. I agree with Horkheimer and Adorno insofar as they argue that humans. Horkheimer and Adorno argue further that. It is thus good taste. On the other hand. that provides the individual with a sense of superiority. Commodities.
to serve as substitute satisfactions for needs denied at work. practice. Despite this. and chose to focus upon the role of two mutually constitutive practices: commodity fetishism and the consumption of commodities that have symbolic power. This gap in Horkheimer and Adorno's theory is filled by Bourdieu's theory of distinction. and how competitive consumption reifies the conditions of capitalist society. which allows us to understand what continually drives individuals to consume commodities that obscure. and exactly how culture reproduces and reifies the alienating conditions of capitalism. It is this insight however. who passively accept whatever is foisted upon them. Commodities therefore need to. D (1991) Supra at p. Their argument often degenerates into a form of instrumentalism. as participants in mass-culture. The contributions of Horkheimer. and reproduce conditions of domination. Modern capitalism is thus thoroughly driven by the desire to purchase symbolic commodities that signify one's economic capital and social capital (in relation to one's contemporaries). conceal the relations between mass-produced commodities and the productive process362. In this chapter I have argued that reification provides a very compelling answer for how the dominated many have come to accept their exploited conditions. manipulate culture in order to perpetuate the domination of the masses. Beyond this. that needs to be substantiated and explained at the level of individual transactions if we are to understand the way in which culture is practiced. or unconsciously. competitive consumption is practiced relentlessly. Horkheimer and Adorno's conception of a mass culture that obscures class differences is a powerful tool for understanding the overall legitimizing role that culture plays in late capitalism. is also an example of reification at work because it demonstrates how wholly devoted individuals are to the processes of capitalism. I have investigated the mechanisms of reification. Property. Commodity fetishism also explains one of the ways in which individuals contribute to their own domination. domestic and cultural commodities need to contain no marks or referents that link them to this original site of displacement. must be understood as extensions of Marx's concept of commodity fetishism. is provide an account of how individuals. as well as concretize class divisions. What Horkheimer and Adorno fail to do however. taken as a fetishized expression of symbolic power. and do.428 143 . in which the powerful elite consciously. Even amongst the lowest income groups. People therefore can only forget workplace degradations if their homes and leisure time is filled with products that bear no visual reference to the alienating work process. I have shown how the systems of consumption 362 Gartman. My work in this chapter has been an attempt to understand how commodity fetishism can be extended and used to explain how capitalism is reproduced and objectified by its own processes. Adorno and Bourdieu however.
and Bourdieu. By including the concept of “mass society” into the theory of distinction. and doing away with Bourdieu's structuralist account of fixed. we can move towards structuring a better solution to the problem of domination. and reproduce systems of domination. and a small contribution to. that by properly understanding some of the processes involved. Horkheimer and Adorno. The work in this chapter has thus been a small contribution to the theories of domination that were put forward by Marx. However. and Bourdieu's work regarding culture must be reconciled to provide a more accurate account of how culture reproduces conditions of domination. the diagnosis of the problem of domination. Lukács. I have also shown why Horkheimer. 144 . This would require a substantial amount of work. we arrive at a better understanding of why and how individuals contribute to the reproduction of the inequalities of capitalism. I consciously however. only engage in an identification of how current forms of cultural behaviour contribute to. and falls out of the scope of this thesis. I do believe. but falls short of a solution to this problem. economic and cultural superiority. In other words. class specific tastes.and production both aim to fetishize the commodity and construct it into an expression of social. Adorno. my work is an understanding of.
Conclusion Commodity fetishism has been the core concept that underpins all the elaborations upon the theory of domination contained in this thesis. The essence of the fetish has been used widely by theorists to explain how the very nature of social reality in oppressive societies makes it difficult for the dominated to comprehend the exploitative, illegitimate nature of capitalist societies. The work of Lukács followed directly from Marx's theory of commodity fetishism, which he extended into a thorough critique of pervasive capitalist rationality. Capitalism, as he saw it, was shot through with a particular type of thought called formal rationality, which was a projection of the rational principles that underpin the capitalist process of commodity production. Formal rational logic was based upon calculability, efficiency and predictability. This logic, when applied to capitalism as a whole, reifies the processes, systems and institutions of capitalism. Capitalism as a system becomes law-like, unchangeable and unquestionable. Capitalist social reality therefore appears as the only legitimate, functional social system whose operational laws govern each individual's actions. Reification therefore hides real social relations beneath these independently functioning laws, making it difficult for individuals to understand the exploitation and inauthenticity of life in capitalist society. It is not so much Lukács' diagnosis of why individuals accept societies that are illegitimate, but his solution to this problem that proves to be problematic. His dialectical materialism is argued to be teleological. The revolutionary class consciousness that is supposed to emanate from the dialectical process (which clearly never occurred) is instead argued to be an imputed class consciousness. In light of Lukács' failure, Horkheimer and Adorno attempted to reformulate domination theory in its entirety. Straying from the “positive dialectics” of Hegel, Marx and Lukács, Horkheimer and Adorno set out to provide a new answer to the question of why proletarian class consciousness had failed. Instead of relying upon ideological critique, they developed an entirely new theory of the development of domination which intensified the problem of domination more than anything else. For Horkheimer and Adorno, the dominating social system of capitalism is by no means reducible to capitalism itself. Instead, domination is the natural and inevitable result of human interaction with nature. Instrumental rationality develops out of human dealings with nature, which extends to an instrumental, rational ordering and control of the social. Humans therefore, come to control other humans in the same way that they instrumentally control nature. This control is exercised by the privileged few over the underprivileged many. Over time, the threat of violence that keeps this social system in place subsides, and the underprivileged must be forced in new, subtle ways to accept
their domination. Up to this point, Horkheimer and Adorno's theory may seem problematic. It is their concentration upon the ideological role of the culture industry, based upon the logic of mass commodity production, that is of particular relevance to this thesis. The culture industry operates in such a way that it placates the frustrated needs of the alienated worker. The worker therefore turns to the culture industry in her leisure time to escape the drudgery of every day life. Culture, in this respect, is potentially disruptive because it used to be, and can be, a space for the individual to find and express freedom, outside of the constraints of the productive process. In modern capitalism however, this potential for freedom is blocked by the commodification and mass production of culture. In modern society, culture is no longer about the expression of freedom and creativity, but about the consumption of mass produced commodities that are bound up with the logic of the capitalist productive process. Leisure is therefore a return to the images and logic of work. Horkheimer and Adorno's work on culture provides us with critical insights into how culture contributes to domination, and how modern capitalism pacifies all potential areas of rebellion and criticism. The culture industry maintains the smooth operation of capitalism as a totalizing system. The way in which the dominated individual experiences capitalism becomes “totalizing”, in that nothing exists outside of the processes of capitalism. One of the principal contributions to this “totalizing” state is commodification. I agree with Horkheimer and Adorno that things that were once free from the logic and impressions of capitalism, when produced as commodities, become instruments of capitalist domination. The individual therefore experiences capitalism as an ontological state. This means that nothing exists outside of her knowledge of capitalism and its systems. She cannot therefore conceptualize alternatives to the social and the political. Capitalism is drummed in until it is naturalized. However, despite the importance and scope of their criticism of the culture industry, Horkheimer and Adorno do not identify the concrete mediating mechanisms that exist in the culture industry. They do not give us a sufficient enough explanation of why individuals come to embrace the culture industry, and how the culture industry is able to operate on a continual basis. I believe that their argument falls short in this regard because they do not account for the way in which the individual actively participates in culture, and how her consumption of culture in the form of commodities reproduces and reifies the system of capitalism. This brings us to the final chapter which draws upon the work of Bourdieu. My work, particularly in the final chapter, can be seen as a defence of the theory of ideology. The theory of ideology explains how capitalist society presents itself in such a way that it conceals its underlying, exploitative inner workings. Based upon
these false appearances, people develop forms of behaviour and beliefs that are contrary to their best interests. A focus upon the competitive consumption of commodities has shown exactly how individuals engage and embrace forms of behaviour that are not in the interests of their welfare. Competitive consumption also creates no lasting happiness, and results in massive amounts of waste and expenditure. Nevertheless, individuals relentlessly partake in competitive consumption. Bourdieu provides an explanation of why people continually consume commodities. His theory of distinction is an invaluable contribution to domination theory, and is powerful in its simplicity and its broad relevance. Bourdieu's theory however, must move away from its strict structuralist approach of “habitus”, and the well defined tastes of each particular class, to a more embracing account of aestheticism and taste. This will develop his theory of distinction and make it applicable to all classes, and all forms of competitive consumption. The desire for distinction must be recognized as a universal social desire. Individuals, regardless of taste, seek to own social capital which is found in its highest concentrations in scarce, expensive commodities. Bourdieu's theory must adapt from its strict focus upon classist forms of consumption that are made to exclude the lower classes, to a more general form of exclusivism that seeks to denounce “mass society”, or “the mainstream”. Although there are associated similarities between the two (mass society and the lower classes), an explanation that includes the concept of mass society lets us understand how the poor also engage in competitive consumption. Those with relatively little economic capital (lower class) can therefore also desire to be distinct from the the pejorative concept of mass society. By broadening Bourdieu's theory of distinction to all classes, and by including the common disdain for mass society, we can arrive at a better understanding of exactly how, and why, individuals develop beliefs and behaviour that favours the reproduction of the status quo. Competitive consumption also explains how individuals, preoccupied with consumption, reify dominating, illegitimate societies through their daily transactions. Finally, the competitive consumption of cultural commodities results in the reification of the social reality of capitalism because it obscures the points of contention between the classes in modern society. Individuals across class divisions partake in mass culture which obscures the division between capitalists as owners of the means of production, and workers as dispossessed employees, forced to labour by their social position. By homogenizing culture, capitalism becomes seemingly more embracing, less contentious, and more equal. Mass culture has, to a large degree, created a broad, encompassing, class obscuring “middle class”, or group. Horkheimer and Adorno however, do not identify what creates this group, and what maintains it. Mass culture owes its existence to the principle of distinction. This is because mass culture did not start as mass society, but became a mass movement because all individuals are driven to keep up with movements of social
as soon as the middle classes start acquiring goods that are associated with the upper classes. 148 . which constitutes mass society. and implicit defence of the idea that oppressive societies selfmaintain. As I stated in the closing lines of the last chapter. cultured minority. the upper classes are forced to acquire different goods which re-establish their social position as a group distinct from mass society. which is expressed most discernibly by the upper-bourgeois classes. In modern society however. and in what way it can be used to provide answers to the question of why the many accept the rule of the few. Horkheimer. drives competitive consumption. which reproduces the class division between the wealthy. Lukács. it has been my intention to show in what way their work still has merit. It has however. and middle classes). social divisions are becoming less visible because individuals end up owning similar cultural goods in an attempt to be associated with the upper class. and when everybody acts upon this desire at the same time. The development of an emancipatory solution however. Inequality therefore.capital. This particular argumentative position has been upheld. and altered historically by the likes of Marx. it becomes a mass movement. I believe that all the theories entailed in this thesis have merit as explanations of why the dominated many accept the rule of the privileged few. and determine the relevance of these theories. Despite the fact that this division between the broad middle class (and lower classes). super-wealthy class) is not a point of contention. would be indebted to the theories entailed in this thesis because it is only through a thorough understanding of the problem that a solution may be found. Instead. and the uncultured lower classes. and the rich upper class is readily apparent in society. as well as to contribute to them. In other words. the work in this thesis serves to build a better understanding of the way in which domination is practiced and reproduced without providing an emancipatory solution. My work in this thesis is thus a contribution to. and upper middle). developed. and maintain the system of capitalism because the lower classes see upper class lifestyle as something to be desired. and the minority (upper. The fact is that everybody desires cultural capital. there is an intense desire to be distinct from mass society. these upper classes drive. middle. been my task to study. it is by no means a threat to capitalism. Over and above this however. that the theories of ideology contained in this thesis provide the only explanation of why conditions of domination persist. This is not to say however. and Bourdieu. Adorno. At the level of the lower classes however (lower. which mass culture follows relentlessly. the division between the majority (lower.
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